Deal Me In Lite, Week 16: "The Man Who Was Almost A Man" by Richard Wright
The seven of diamonds this week sends us down South (again) to a writer from my home state of Mississippi: Richard Wright.
I wrote about Wright a few days ago when I told the tale of my trip to Natchez. Wright is, arguably, one of the most famous of many famous writers who called Mississippi home for even a short time. And he is remembered in countless ways throughout the state. Here, in south Mississippi, we have a wonderful public library in Hattiesburg, and outside is an "Authors' Walk," with plaques commemorating the state's most famous writers. I went to the library today, just because, and as I walked down the sidewalk, who should I encounter but Mr. Wright! Or at least, his plaque:
And yet, for as long as I have lived in Mississippi, I have never read any of Wright's work. Until this week. Go figure.
As this week's story opens, Dave, a teenaged black boy, is headed to the general store to look into buying a gun out of the Sears Roebuck catalog. He thinks he needs a gun so the other field hands will treat him more like he deserves, more like a man.
OK, so is it just me, or does this immediately put one in mind of Chekhov's famous maxim, which goes something like this:
"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."
Well, Wright eventually puts a gun in Dave's hands, but he gets it in a rather roundabout way. Dave works on a farm, and all of his wages go directly to his mother. So he has to beg his mother for two dollars to buy a second-hand gun, and the only reason she lets him have the money is that she plans for Dave's father to have the gun, I suppose for safekeeping until Dave is deemed old enough to handle it. However, Dave hides the gun and tries to figure out a time and a place to fire it, although he is not sure he even knows how to shoot it, this being the first gun he has ever handled.
Right about now, while I was reading this story, my stomach began tying itself up in knots because I just knew this was going to end badly. And it did, of course, with Dave taking the gun out with him in the field early the next morning. He decides to try firing the gun, and accidentally shoots and kills the mule he is using to plow the field. Ironically, the very act Dave thought would prove he was finally a man, ends up confirming in everyone's mind that he is still a dumb little kid who can't be trusted with something like a gun.
There's more to the story than this brief synopsis, of course, but I don't want to ruin it for you. I liked this story a lot, but one thing that made it harder to read was the dialect that Wright used for the black characters' dialogue. Dialect of any kind is notoriously hard to read. However, this is really a minor quibble for a very interesting story.