Study Guide

The Man Who Was Almost a Man Setting

By Richard Wright

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The Farm

Set in the rural South, "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" features some good old-fashioned country living. On one side, we have Casa Saunders, a modest home, and on the other, we have Hawkins's ritzy plantation house—a sign of his wealth and an unsettling reminder of the legacy of slavery. The differences between these two settings illustrate the tension at the heart of the story.

House Hunters

The Saunders's house is a reflection of their status as members of the working poor. They do whatever they can to get by—Mrs. Saunders even wants to take Dave's precious gun catalog "'so [they] kin use it in the outhouse'" (49). Their dinner is pretty meager, as well: cornbread, molasses, and fatback (a.k.a. bacon). Though it sounds tasty (more bacon, please), it's not exactly the most nutritious meal for a growing teen. It's basically bread, a little sugar, and a little meat.

Conversely, Mr. Hawkins's home is a constant reminder of his wealth and power. This "big white house" (210) overlooks his massive plantation, both of which represent his power over the surrounding area. We can also see this home as a reference to the days of American slavery and how aspects of the institution manage to live on in society even after the practice has been banned. Dave realizes this on a subconscious level, which is why he wants to fire his gun at the house before skipping town.

Two Worlds

Ultimately, these two wildly different homes underscore the social issues hanging beneath the story's surface. On one level, we can read "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" as a straightforward coming-of-age tale, documenting the struggles of one seventeen-year-old-kid. On a deeper level, however, we can think of the story as a look at the imbalanced power structure of post-emancipation South. Though we examine them through the lens of Dave's coming-of-age experiences, these issues are at the heart of the story.

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