The protagonist of Richard Wright's short story "The Man Who Was Almost A Man" is an adolescent named Dave who works with older, tougher men who he feels view him with little respect. He preoccupies himself with thoughts of owning a gun, believing he would win the respect of the others if he did. Dave ultimately acquires a gun but disaster occurs when he does. Rather than making him win the respect of others, the gun causes Dave to be ridiculed and censured for his accidental killing of a mule. Instead of paying for his mistake, Dave hops a train and leaves town in shame. Dave's experience fails to win him respect but does cause his loss of innocence and initiation into adulthood.
Dave is a young man who works with older and more experience field workers. They treat him with little respect and Dave craves respect from them. Dave consoles himself by fantasizing about the respect he could win from the men if he only had a gun, "One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they couldn't talk to him as though he were a little boy" (Wright 103). He cajoles his mother into finally letting him purchase one, but he disobeys her rules about it. Instead, he wins up shooting his mule when he decides he is ready to fire the gun. Desperate, he buries the gun and lies to everyone about the mule's death.
When Dave is confronted by his mother demanding to know where the gun he purchased is, he breaks down and confesses the truth. This makes the others laugh at him and ridicule him. His father becomes irate and demands the gun. His boss Hawkins tells him he is now responsible for paying him $50 to repay the cost of the dead mule. Dave makes up a story about retrieving the gun in the morning, but he is inconsolable over his public humiliation. He sneaks off to fire the gun again, draining his anger and the gun of all its bullets. He hears a train