‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man’ by Richard Wright

Richard Wright was born in Roxie, Mississippi in 1908.
I began this Personal Anthology with some hemming and hawing over the impossibility of clearly defining Southern literature. However, there’s a certain school of thought that makes it clear that for it to be Southern literature, there’s got to be a dead mule somewhere in there. In Richard Wright’s story ‘The Man Who Was Almost a Man,’ the mule carnage comes about at the hands of seventeen-year-old farmhand Dave Saunders. Dave feels disrespected by the other farmhands, and callowly believes obtaining a pistol and firing it in front of them will lead them to recognize him as a grown man. He finagles a gun by lying to his mother, but accidentally kills his boss’s mule while shooting in his field. His parents force him to work for the money to repay the farmer for the mule (“Well, boy, looks like yuh done bought a dead mule!”). It would take two years of work to do this, so Dave, following Huck, elects to “light out for the Territory.” He hops a train headed to the North, where he believes he can be a man.

First published in Eight Men, World Publishing, 1961

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