, Research Paper
In The Man Who Was Almost a Man, Richard Wright uses many details to create a sense of poverty and entrapment. This is a story of a young man s growth towards mental and psychological maturity after one very influential incident. The main character, David, is a young black man of seventeen who labors on a plantation. He feels that he gets no respect as an adult from his co-workers or his family members, and decides that he needs a gun in order to be a man. After a horrible accident involving the gun, he is only further treated as a child, and decides to jump a train out of town. The reader is constantly reminded of the sense of poverty and entrapment through Wright s descriptions of family life, plantation work, and indications of racial tension. The main character s life revolves around his family. David s family is poor. They are so poor and unfurnished that they use their hands to eat their dinner. David s mother even suggests using a newly acquired Sears catalog as toilet paper. Without a second thought about it, she says: We kin use it in the outhouse (2249). His mother also makes the household very entrapping by demanding that David be home at specific times, and scolding him when he is late. She gives him money to buy a gun, and then insists that he come right back home saying: Yuh bring it right back t me, yuh hear? Now ef yuh don, Ahma have yuh pa pick yuh so hard yuh won fergit it (2251). Even after David shoots the mule, he finds himself trapped in guilt after his mother reveals his lie. At this point, even David s plantation co-workers gather around him, symbolically trapping him in his mistake. Richard Wright s description of southern plantation work includes a few details that emphasize the worker s real poverty and symbolic entrapment. David plows the fields strapped into the plow straps and being pulled by a mule. David walks behind the plow, hearing the traces creaking as the oldest mule on the plantation plods ahead. The meager wages that all the plantation workers receive are another specific point of symbolic entrapment. David is paid only two dollars a month. When he accidentally kills the mule, pay becomes an even more serious item. Mr. Hawkins, the plantation owner, says to David: Well, boy, looks like yuh done bought a dead mule! (2255). David realizes that in order to pay for the mule, he will have to work for Mr. Hawkins for another two years. At this point, David comes to the realization that he will be trapped in this place for two more years, and it pushes him to run away. Racial issues are seated at the core of this story. When David goes to the store and asks the white owner for a catalog, he is interrogated about what he wants to buy. The owner, Mr. Joe asks: Whut you plannin on buyin? (2248) and then proceeds to offer David a gun of his own. He says: Say, if you wanna buy a gun, why don t you buy one from me? I gotta gun to sell (2249). Since Mr. Joe is white, he indirectly intimidates David. He essentially traps David into buying a gun from him by offering a lower price and easier availability. Another point of racial tension is between Mr. Hawkins and David s father. When David accidentally shoots the mule, David s father and Mr. Hawkins make arrangements to have it paid for. Hawkins automatically suggests that David work off the cost of the mule by saying: Just let the boy keep on working and pay me two dollars a month (2255). Bob, David s father, is so intimidated by Mr. Hawkins that he does not dispute this or offer to pay in another way. David realizes that he will be trapped on the plantation and continue to get treated as a boy. In the end, David decides that running away is his only option for escape. After being reminded of his poverty and entrapment in every aspect of his life, he opts to take a chance with the rest of the world. Using setting, Wright convinces the reader of the frustration and difficulty David has with his situation. In every aspect, one finds only more and more suggestion of a prison-like lifestyle. In the end, fleeing seems justified. By moving the reader in such a way, Wright demonstrates his mastery of setting. Works Cited Wright, Richard. The Man Who Was Almost a Man. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eds. Nina Baym, et al. Shorter 5th ed. New York: Norton, 1999. 2248-56.