Richard Wright's short story "The Man Who Was Almost A Man" is the story of a 17-year-old Southern black youth, Dave Saunders, who believes that having a gun will give him the power and respect he lacks in a world in which he is bossed around by his parents as well as by the white man, Jim Hawkins, on whose farm he works. He believes having a gun will make him a man. He buys the gun, accidentally kills Hawkins' mule, gets caught, and takes off on a train in the middle of the night with his gun: "Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man" (Wright 112).
The story on a symbolic level, in Robert Felgar's analysis, has both phallic and racial/social elements: "Aside from its obvious phallic significance, the pistol is an emblem of male strength in a wider sense; it represents power, mobility, respect." Felgar argues that the shooting of the mule was no accident, but was at least a subconscious striking out by Dave against both the white oppressor Hawkins and the enslaved part of himself:
Although Dave does not know the psychological meaning of the accident, the killing of Jenny can be interpreted on one level as Dave's striking out at the oppressor by destroying his property; but, on a more provocative level, she represents that side of himself, his slave mentality, that he would like to blot out; he does not want to be a mule for the white man (Felgar 156).
James Baldwin also interprets the story at least in part as a cry against the sexual myths surrounding the black male, especially the young black male. Baldwin writes first that the story reflects the social and economic oppression experienced by blacks who dwelled at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder during the Depression.
This story, Baldwin writes, makes him "think of human loss and helplessness," and refers to the "dry, savage, folkloric humor" of the story (Baldwin 270). He goes...