In "The Man Who Was Almost a Man "by Richard Wright, the main character, Dave, expresses his need to be acknowledged as an adult. On the surface, the story seems to imply that black people are stupid, deceitful, unkind, violent, and a threat to white people. The reader is led to see Dave predicament's as a simple tale of immaturity and the consequences of irresponsible behavior at first. However, after further observation, the reader finds that this story discloses not only the exploitative economic conditions that thwart both Dave and his father's manhood, but also Dave's equating of the ownership of a gun with maturity, and the inequality of race, class and gender. .
The economic conditions of the time made it hard for black men to earn respect. Dave's black tenant family works for a white landowner, Mr. Hawkins. At first glance, it appears that Mr. Hawkins is a fairly nice fellow; however, when Dave inexplicably arrives early for work, Mr. Hawkins does not commend him but gives him more work to do. In a way, that is what you would do with a beast of burden that exhibited extra energy and willingness to work. The author suggests that "a man oughta hava little gun aftah he done worked hard all day" (886). Wright clearly develops the gun as a masculine, sexual symbol which will substitute for Dave's and his father's appropriated "manhood," which is a metaphor for economic security and self-sufficiency. When the story opens, Dave walks from the fields to the general store, traditionally the site of exploitation for tenant farmers and sharecroppers, both black and white. He asks Joe, the white store manager, if he can borrow the Sears catalogue, the symbol of Hawkins's control over the commodities available to his tenants. Joe hands over the catalogue and confirms that Dave's "manhood" has been appropriated by the exploitative economic system when he tells Dave, "If you wanna buy a gun, why don't you buy one from me? I gotta gun to sell" (886).