Study Guide

The Man Who Was Almost a Man Themes

  • Coming of Age

    If you've ever been (or currently are, for that matter) a teenager, then you should be able to relate to Dave Saunders in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man." He works hard, but gets no respect from his boss or coworkers; he tries to be responsible, but his parents still treat him like a kid. This is a tale every teen knows well.

    Dave is eager to grow up and gain respect, so he buys a gun, thinking it will make him a man. He's super wrong, though. Although Dave doesn't have any interest in using that gun to hurt anyone, he can't deny the power—the downright machismo—that he feels when he holds the weapon. But as Dave learns (quite maturely, we might add), there's simply no shortcut to becoming an adult.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. In your opinion, does Dave become a man by the end of the story? Why or why not?
    2. Do Dave's parents support his growth to adulthood? Explain.
    3. How does Dave's ability to fire the gun reflect his coming-of-age experience?
    4. Is Dave right to want to be treated like an adult? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Obviously, Dave's decision to hop a train and skip town represents him remaining a child because he runs from his problems instead of righting them.

    Dave's decision to hop a train and skip town represents him becoming an adult because he takes his life into his own hands.

  • Power

    We have to agree with Kanye on this one—no one man should have all that power. In "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," seventeen-year-old Dave Saunders is desperate to feel strong after being bullied and/or babied by everyone in his life. It's a brutal combo. In light of these feelings of powerlessness, Dave begins obsessing over buying a gun, eager to have power over life and death. He's not a violent kid or anything—far from it—but he can't deny how much stronger he feels when he holds a gun in his hand. So how do things end up for him? In this instance, we've got the power—you click, we'll cough up the details.

    Questions About Power

    1. Why is Dave so bad at firing the gun at first?
    2. What does Jenny's death say about Dave's newfound power?
    3. Does Dave learn to manage the gun? Why or why not?
    4. In what ways does Mr. Hawkins hold power over Dave?

    Chew on This

    In essence, Dave buys the gun to feel as powerful as he perceives Mr. Hawkins to be.

    Dave's inability to actually use the gun is a reflection of his immaturity and inability to wield power.

  • Men and Masculinity

    If Dave Saunders had any lucky stars, he'd wish on them to become a real man—such a man. There's just one problem with this: None of the male role models in his life seem to have any interest in helping him out along away.

    His dad is too exhausted from working to get too involved in his life. His boss treats him like a cog in a machine (or another brick in the wall, if you're a Pink Floyd fan). Even his older coworkers don't help, choosing instead to mock the poor boy to no end. These aren't exactly the best role models a boy can have. Still, Dave pushes forward in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," trying—and sometimes failing—to become a real man. And does he succeed? You'll just have to keep reading to find out.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. What does Mr. Saunders's parenting style teach Dave about being a man? Be specific, please.
    2. Why does Dave associate guns with masculinity? Explain.
    3. Compare and contrast Dave's various masculine role models.
    4. Why is Dave concerned with seeming like a man?

    Chew on This

    Dave buys a gun because, in his mind, masculinity is associated with the power of violence.

    Although Dave wants to become a man, he's prevented from doing so because his male role models refuse to see him as such.

  • Choices

    Your mission—if you choose to accept it—is to investigate the curious case of Dave Saunders. In "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," this seventeen-year-old makes a lot of choices—some better than others. Sometimes he makes his decisions impulsively, giving no thought to possible ramifications, and sometimes he makes his decisions based on insecurity. Others still, he makes out of pure fear.

    Dave's bad choices end up telling us a lot about his character; his reactions to their consequences tell us even more. Regardless, the only way to make better choices is to learn from your mistakes. Such is life.

    Questions About Choices

    1. How do Dave's decision-making skills change over the course of the novel? Give examples to back your claim.
    2. Why does Dave choose to lie about Jenny's death? Explain.
    3. What is the significance of Dave's choice to run away from home? Dig deep, and consider the broader social context, too—not just his personal experiences.
    4. What does Dave's story tell us about the power of consequences?

    Chew on This

    Although Dave wants to be treated like a man, his choices reveal him to still be a child.

    Dave's decision to leave home is important because it represents him actively taking control of his own future.