Study Guide

The Man Who Was Almost a Man

By Richard Wright

The Man Who Was Almost a Man Introduction

In case we have any confused Pink Floyd fans in the house, this isn't the Richard Wright you're looking for. Just go back to syncing up Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz, and we'll all be no worse for the wear.

Okay. If you're still here, we're assuming you're ready to talk about the real Richard Wright, author of "The Man Who Was Almost a Man."

Born in Mississippi in 1908, Richard Wright became one of the most prominent voices in the Harlem Renaissance, a legendary explosion of African-American literature and art in the 1920s and 30s. You've probably heard of his novels before: Black Boy and Native Son have long been regarded as American classics. Less known, however, is Wright's impressive work in short stories. "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" might be the best of these, its plot perhaps influenced by Wright's own exodus from rural Mississippi to urban Chicago as a young man.

The story follows Dave Saunders, a seventeen-year-old kid desperate to prove his manhood. After being teased, babied, and downright disrespected, our young hero decides that the only way he can make things right is by buying a gun. (Not the smartest move, as it turns out.) One dead mule, fifty dollars of debt, and an angry boss later, Dave is challenged to finally prove that he's a man once and for all.

And that's just scratching the surface, loyal Shmoopers. Although the story focuses on Dave's coming-of-age experience, we end up learning a lot about society at large. We learn about the importance of parenthood; we learn about the way that wealth and class can control our lives; we learn how the legacy of slavery continued to limit the potential of African-Americans decades after the institution ended.

That's a lot of stuff for such a short story—not that what we're complaining. Whether you're interested in personal truths, broad social critiques, or even just some good old-fashioned storytelling, you'll find it in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man."

What is The Man Who Was Almost a Man About and Why Should I Care?

Growing up is hard to do.

Sometimes your family and friends don't acknowledge your growth, treating you like you belong at the kiddie table. Sometimes you feel like it's just going to take forever to get some respect. And then, of course, there are those inevitable times when you simply screw things up. All of this happens to all of us.

The important thing isn't avoiding mistakes, however—it's embracing them. There's not a single adult out there who hasn't messed things up plenty of times, but the difference between those who are successful and those who aren't is that successful people learn from their mistakes. Or, that's one of the differences anyway.

If you can do this, you've already won half of the battle. If you still need a little extra push, however, then take a look at "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." As you watch Dave Saunders's coming-of-age experience get hairier than a Wookie-owned barbershop, you'll come to realize that there's always hope, no matter how unpleasant things get. And in Dave's case, you can bet your bottom dollar that things get unpleasant.

The Man Who Was Almost a Man Resources

Websites

Richard Wright's Poetry
Although this site touches on the whole of Wright's career, it focuses primarily on his poetry, which is less well-known to the public.

The Hurston/Wright Foundation
Founded in honor of both Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston, the Hurston/Wright Foundation honors and supports black writers and their work.

Articles and Interviews

Get Your Wright On
Although Wright left Mississippi when he was twenty and never came back, the state eventually honored the writer with his very own holiday—Richard Wright Week.

Writing About Wright
In this interview, Wright biographer Hazel Rowley examines the author's singular life story and the way it shaped his fiction.

Video

Journey to the North
This brief video from the Smithsonian details Wright's early life and eventual exodus from Mississippi to Chicago.

The Life and Career of Richard Wright
Want to learn even more about Wright's life? You know Shmoop's never going to let you down.

Richard Wright onstage with Pink Floyd
Wait—wrong Richard Wright. Our bad.

Audio

Julia Wright on Her Father
In this interview with NPR, Julia Wright discusses her feelings about her father's work, and specifically, his novel A Father's Law which he was working on at the time of his death.

Honoring Richard Wright
In 2007, writer Farah Jasmine Griffin named Richard Wright the fourth most influential African-American author of all-time. Check out the interview with NPR in which she discusses the honor.

Images

Richard Wright is a Classy Dude
That is all.

A Sears-Roebuck Gun Catalog
Want to see what Dave saw? Click on through.