Shucks, a man oughta hava little gun aftah he done worked hard all day. (1)
For Dave, the equation is simple: boy + gun = man. Not quite, buddy. Still, he does an awful lot of work for a seventeen-year-old—doesn't he deserve some respect?
"Your ma lettin you have your own money now?"
"Shuck. Mistah Joe, Ahm gittin t be a man like anybody else!" (9-10)
Well, there goes being a man. Although this exchange proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dave is still a boy, we can't help but put some of the blame on his parents for this. Is hoarding all of their son's money really the best tactic?
He did not want to mention money before his father […] He looked at his father uneasily out of the edge of his eye. (61)
Dave is straight-up intimidated by his father. His mom loves to play the good cop, easily guilt-tripped into giving her darling son whatever he wants. His father, on the other hand, will shut that nonsense down in a second. If you were wondering what Dave's gold standard of masculinity is, look no further than his father.
"Lawd knows yuh don need no gun. But yer pa does." (109)
Basically, she's saying that Daddy Saunders is a man while Dave is still a boy. Burn. Still, does giving a boy enough money to buy a gun really sound like a good idea?
But he had not fired it; he had been afraid that his father might hear. Also he was not sure he know how to fire it. (115)
In Dave's mind, Daddy Saunders is all-seeing and all-knowing—basically, a long white beard away from being a god. By placing his father on a pedestal, Dave tricks himself into believing that true manhood is out of reach for him.
His father caught his shoulder and shook him til his teeth rattled. (161)
Well, that'll save a trip to the dentist at least. Again, we see how violence is connected to Dave's conception of masculinity.
He remembered other beatings, and his back quivered. Naw, naw, Ah sho don wan im t beat me tha way no mo. (206)
On a metaphorical level, Mr. Saunders's threat to Dave represents the fact that he doesn't see his son as a man. Instead of teaching him why killing Jenny was wrong, he takes out his anger in an unproductive way. Does he honestly think it will solve anything?
Dam em all! Nobody gave him anything. All he did was work. They treat me like a mule, n then they beat me. (206)
This sums things up perfectly. Dave is treated like a workhorse, a dull thing whose only purpose in life is to work, instead of as a boy on the cusp of manhood. He might be a bit whiny about it, but he has a darn good point.
Lawd, ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah'd taka shot at tha house […] t let im know Saunders is a man. (210)
What would this prove? Dave sees Hawkins, to a degree, as the epitome of manhood—he's wealthy, focused, and often mean. What better way to become a man than to knock off the dude sitting in the top spot?
Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man. (212)
We have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, Dave is simply running away from home out of fear, as young men have done since probably the beginning of time. On the other, though, this is the first time in the story that Dave boldly takes control over his own future. Boy, you'll be a man soon.