eight-menStudy Guide for Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost A Man”

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(Wright’s story was first printed in 1940 in Harper’s Bazaar under the title “Almos’ a Man”and then in Eight Men, a collection of short stories, in 1961, under the title of “The Man Who Was Almost A Man”)

  1. Identify the narrative voice in the story and discuss its significance. (You may like to concentrate on the first paragraph).
  2. What do Mr. Hawkins and Joe represent in the story? Justify your claim with examples from the text.
  3. What does the catalogue in the story symbolize?
  4. Discuss whether Dave has role models to guide him through his adolescence. Why? Why not?
  5. What is the symbolic value of Dave’s keeping the gun tied to his thigh?
  6. Identify what Dave tells Jenny before he pulls the trigger and comment on the significance of this act.
  7. What is the symbolic value of Dave’s killing the mule?
  8. Comment on the following quotes from the story: “They treat me like a mule, n then they beat me.”
  9. Identify when the narrator first lets the reader know about Dave’s surname. Why do you think this could be significant?
  10. Examine the last section of the story and identify how pulling the trigger successfully affects Dave. Justify your view with quotations from the story.
  11. What does Dave’s getting on the train symbolize? Do you believe that Dave has become mature at the end of the story? Why? Why not?
  12. Comment on the significance of the title.
  13. Writing task 1: In relation to Dave, Dave’s father, Mr. Hawkins, Joe and Dave’s mother, discuss the significance of the gun as a phallic symbol in the story.
  14. Writing task 2: To what extent would Richard Wright’s story offer a critique of capitalism?

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, November 2008

Useful link: Study Guide for Richard Wright’s The Man Who Killed A Shadow /

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