Name: Jing Cao 1540041
Instructor: LaShawnDa Pittman
I have known Richard Wright from my prior class that instructor recommend us to read his famous memoir Black Boy. Wright was an African American author of controversial novels and stories during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. He was born in 1908 on a farm in Mississippi. His difficult childhood and movement from the south to the north brought a vast number of inspiration for later creation of articles, such as The Man Who Was Almost a Man. This short story was published in 1961 after Richard died, and this was when the Civil Rights Movement started to campaign against Jim Crow laws, segregation,and lynching.
The Man Who Was Almost a Man, Wright portrays the character of Dave, a seventeen-year-old worker of Mr. Hawkins’ field. Dave is an impatient kid. He wants to prove that he is power enough of owning a gun. He plots a plan to visit a gun shop nearby and ask her mother for the money to pay for it. He was successful in owning a two-dollar gun that was offered to him by the owner. However, a series of unfortunate events unveiled to him when he got the gun to his possession. He accidentally shot the donkey named Jenny that Mr. Hawkins owns. The revelation to the death of Jenny caused him to pay two-dollar each of his pay to Mr. Hawkins. Despite the fact that Dave wants to let go of the gun, he cannot and instead decided to run away with the train and take the gun with him. The over-all story tells about the power that African Americans fought for the Civil Rights era.
Wright’s Dave represents not only the young African Americans during the time of his writing but the whole of Black community. Dave is a character whose foremost desire to own a pistol actually came from the thought he had in his head: Ah ain scareda them even ef they are biggem me (Wright). People who surrounds Dave are bigger than him and bullies him and talks to him “as though he were a little boy” (Wright). This is how this main character represents the Black community of that time. The African Americans were like little men and women in the eyes of the whites. White people segregate the Blacks and they treat them as if they were still slaves although the Civil War already gave them independence.
The independence was not a real independence for Black Americans. Dave’s family still lived with former slave owners under landowner or sharecropper system, and suffered from unfair social treatments. As I learned in the class, blacks and whites attended two different schools, went to separate parks, and sat in separate seating areas in theaters. These separate areas reserved for African Americans were inferior (Pittman). Therefore, I guess this is the reasons that Dave attempted to prove that he was a man rather than a little boy, and tried to get rid of the negative stereotype and generalization of blacks as well. According to the Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, or Queen? Stereotypes of the African-American Female, which clearly supports that the image of mammy is an asexual obese African American woman, of dark complexion, with extremely large breasts and buttocks. No matter where you look on TV today, if you spot a black woman it is almost sort of nagging overweight woman who stay in the kitchen all day taking care of everyone around her (especially a white family). This would be the “mammy” character. A plethora of stereotypes that evolved during slavery, continued to exist after the end of slavery and still contribute to the harassment experiences of African American women today.
Dave’s struggle to find his own voice and speak up for himself also reflects how the Black Americans lived during the time of the writing of The Man Who Was Almost a Man. Like the Black Americans in the 1960s, Dave sought to find his freedom from the ridicules against him. After the two World Wars, the African Americans found their way towards better opportunities. The so-called Great Migration of the Black Americans occurred in the early 1960s. Southern Black people started to flee and move to the North. This is greatly similar with that of how Dave decided to leave with the train and thought, Ahm ridin yuh ternight, so hep me Gawd! (Wright). Like Dave, African Americans during the time of their migration were mostly unaware of what lies ahead of them up the north.
The gun, which was cold and made of steel, can represent that African American struggle to own more rights, freedom, and they decided to take their own path for changes since the end of Civil War. This kind of racial oppression triggered the Civil Rights Movements. For example, the early African American civil right leader, W. E. B. DuBois, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). And the most famous civil right activities leader, Martin L, King, organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) (Pittman) Both of activists promoted strategies that would chip away at white dominance and wanted to achieve full citizenship rights and equality. Specifically, Martin L, King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963. He called for the United Stated to end racism. Just as Dave finally decided to run away rather than fantasizes.
Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man features the character of Dave whose youthfulness brought him troubles and struggles in order to prove that he is already a man. These struggles mirror the struggle of the Black community in the 1960s. The right, National Urban League(NAACP) wanted to make black segregation acceptable and to be treated same as others. The left, the transformers and black nationalists, and emphasis on own separate communities. (Pittman) Like Dave in the story, Black Americans also found their ways to suppress White Oppression through the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Migration.
Dr. LaShawnDa Pittman, personal communication, Fall 2015
Lack, Caleb. “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, or Queen? Stereotypes of the African-American Female.” Great Plains Skeptic. Great Plains Skeptic, 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
Pittman, LaShawnDa. “The Second Reconstruction.” University of Washington. 23 Nov 2015. Lecture.
Wright, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce C. Oates. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.,2013. 365-373. Print.