Study Guide

The Man Who Was Almost a Man Power

By Richard Wright

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Shucks, Ah ain scareda them even ef they are biggern me! […] Ahm going by ol Joe's sto n git that Sears Roebuck catlog n look at them guns. (1)

Dave feels powerless. He has to work all day, and he's mocked incessantly by bigger, meaner dudes. At home, he doesn't even get respect from his own parents. What better way to get rid of those feelings of powerlessness than to get something so powerful it can kill people? Or so Dave's logic goes.

He felt very confident until he saw fat Joe walk in through the rear door, then his courage began to ooze. (2)

Although Dave talks a big game, he's still just a kid. Just look at how his confident façade crumbles as soon as an adult enters the picture. In fact, this is the very reason why he wants to buy a gun in the first place.

His eyes glowed at blue-and-black revolvers. He glanced up, feeling sudden guilt. His father was watching him. (61)

C'mon man, read a comic book or something like that instead. Dave knows what he's doing is wrong, but he can't help himself—he simply loves the way he feels when he thinks about owning a gun. He's obsessed.

He could almost feel the slickness of the weapon with his fingers. If he had a gun like that he would polish it and keep it shining so it would never rust. (70)

Dave daydreams about guns the way most teenagers daydream about Kate Upton. Yikes. In his naivety, Dave believes that simply owning a weapon will give him untold power, changing his life in an instant. The more time goes on, the more Dave sounds like a supervillain.

In the gray light of dawn, he held it loosely, feeling a sense of power. Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white. (114)

Although race is rarely explicitly touched on by the story, it can often be seen lingering right below the surface. Just look at Dave's relationship with Hawkins. Hawkins—a rich white man—takes advantage of young black workers like Dave, working them all day for little pay. In Dave's mind, his new gun allows him to bypass this arrangement, if you will.

If he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him. (114)

Is that true, Dave? Respect is something that's earned, not purchased from a dude named Joe for two bucks. Still, this once again shows how Dave's feelings of weakness drive him to reach for power.

Bloom! A report half defeaned him and he though his right hand was torn from his arm. (130)

It turns out that Dave isn't quite strong enough to handle the gun's power—both literally and figuratively. This failure has real consequences, most notably the death of Jenny the mule.

He turned over, thinking how had fired the gun. He had an itch to fire it again. Ef other men kin shoota gun, by Gawd, Ah kin! (208)

After being thoroughly shamed by Hawkins, Dave is desperate to recapture the power that was abruptly stolen from him. But is he ready to wield that power once again? The child-like logic that he uses here makes us assume no, but we'll hold judgment for now.

But, as soon as he wanted to pull the trigger, he shut his eyes and turned his head. Naw, Ah can't shoot wid mah eyes closed n mah head turned. (209)

Well, we'd consider this an improvement—instead of being frightened by the power of the gun, Dave has now learned how to embrace it. While this doesn't solve all of his problems (far from it), it's a sign that Dave has figured out how to learn from his mistakes.

When he reached the top of the ridge he stood straight and proud in the moonlight, looking at Jim Hawkins' big white house, feeling the gun sagging in his pocket. (210)

Again we see how Hawkins is associated with power. Although Dave doesn't grasp it consciously, the social structure of his hometown is built around men like Hawkins: rich men who hold power over poor folk like him. In a way, Dave's quest to feel powerful can be seen as a response to this fact; this moment represents him finally realizing that.

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