Richard Wright's short story, "The Man Who Was Almost a Man", illustrates the hardships a boy goes through while becoming a man. This time can be very awkward and stressful for anyone, but it seems the stress is doubled for Dave. Dave is seventeen and yearning to be treated as an equal by his father and the other workers.
Dave believes if he has a gun it will make him a man. The gun in this story is an obvious phallic symbol. It represents manhood, strength, and power, as it does in our society today. Boys often see getting a gun as their first step into adulthood. It takes maturity to be able to own and use one responsibly. It would be crazy to give a child a gun and expect him not to kill himself or someone else. When the day comes that a boy finally gets this status symbol, he is elated, and feels very powerful. Assuming he is ready to control this kind of power, it can be a good self-esteem builder. .
In the story, Dave irrefutably is not ready to own a gun. It is obvious by his reaction to having it in his hand. "Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white. And if he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him." (Wright 278). Dave wants to be thought of as a man so desperately, he's willing to gain that respect by instilling fear in other people. .
The story then goes on to say that he doesn"t even know how to fire the gun (278). This clears up any doubt about his reasons for wanting the gun. He doesn"t want it so much for fun as he does to gain the respect of those around him. Even if Dave had been unable to fire the gun, he more than likely would have been content just flashing it around.
It is very hard for Dave to "find himself" because of the environment he lives in. His parents treat him like a beast of burden instead of the growing boy that he is. He works long hours, gets paid little, and has a minuscule amount of downtime.