Throughout history there has always been oppression, oppression of a certain subset of people, and through this oppression comes expression. These things are so strongly tied together because if a human is made to feel less of a human, then their human qualities are forced to find other forms to show themselves. Though this expression can sometimes become aggressive, and dangerous; ideally this expression should be peaceful, it should manifest itself as a form of nonviolent protest.
Unfortunately if this person is forbidden from any form of expression then it will explode, and become violent, and lash out at anybody earby. Richard Wright, in his short story, “The Man who was Almost a Man” touches on this, what pushes a man to become violent, to lash out. Wright crafts a story about how oppression will inevitably lead to violence, unless there is another outlet for expression. In “The Man who was Almost a Man”, Dave Saunders is a young, seventeen year old, African American boy who wants nothing more than to be treated like an adult.
He yearns for the day that people will respect him, so then they “couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy”(Wright 899). Though Dave’s feeling very much anifests itself from Dave growing up during the 1940’s, a very tough time for African American’s, not to mention those living in the south. While Dave was coming to the age of adulthood, and “manhood”, he is very much oppressed throughout the story, and made to feel less of a human. This oppression forces him to look for other means to get a sense of “masculinity”, and this is how Dave decides to obtain a gun.
This gun becomes a strong representation of manhood, and power for him, which he uses to express himself in newfound ways. This expression, of course, is quite violent, as he with this “gun in his and, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him”(Wright 903). It becomes extremely evident that Dave wants to overcome this sense of oppression by using this weapon, this “manhood”. Dave ends up, while testing his manhood, shooting the mule, Jenny, who he’s supposed to be watching, and using to farm. Jenny dies a slow and extremely painful death, while Dave panics, completely unsure as to what to do.
Later, the owner of the mule, and local farmers, gather around, laughing at the silly mistake Dave has done. Dave begins to relate the death of the mule to his own suffering, going so far as to say, they treat me like a mule, n then they beat me”(Wright 906). Therefore, Jenny, the now dead mule, represents Dave, who has also been working all of his life on someone else’s land; while the slow and painful death of the mule represents Dave’s own metaphorical slow and painful death, and how even afterwards, people will just laugh.
Dave is conditioned to believe that all he does is work tirelessly, much like Jenny, working with very little reward or any end goal, as during this time period African American’s had very little rights to pursue anything, which is what pushed him to his violent outburst. Though, another piece of literature, heavily revered, Martin Luther King Jr’s “A Letter from Birmingham Jail”, also touched on the idea of oppression expression. In his terrific piece to the clergymen, that “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come”(King 272).
This urge very much came for Dave, especially when he decided he was going to leave, and run away from everything. This was his internal decision to become a “man”, yet this was also his decision to be free, as he has no outlet for his own expression. Dave hopped onto a train to be free, to be “somewhere where e could be a man”(Wright 907). King also argues for Dave’s lack of availability of expression, as he is very much repressed in nearly every aspect of his life, he has to ask his mother for his own money, he has to work for very little pay, and everywhere he is treated like a second class citizen.
So, without any room for expression Dave begins to seek for any means necessary, any little thing to become a “man”. King discusses nonviolent expressions as an important outlet for those oppressed, but “if his repressed emotions do not come out in these nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of iolence”(King 273). This very much ties into Dave’s own struggles in his life, because at every turn his emotions are repressed, and he is told how to feel.
Therefore his emotions are forced to express themselves in these violent ways, because the second he obtains the gun he becomes obsessed with it, taking it apart, acting like he’s going to shoot it, and eventually shooting it and killing Jenny. This, King would argue, is a product of having his emotions repressed for so long. King even goes on to describe exactly what he perceives these ominous expressions of violence to be, as “millions of Negroes, out of frustration and espair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare”(King 272).
King may argue that that’s exactly what Dave is leading towards near the end of the story, because he’s been pushed through humiliation and frustration to a point of extreme violent behavior. Even as Dave is leaving, he plans on taking a shot at the white land owner, “ef Ah had just one mo bullet Ah’d taka shot at tha house. Ah’d like t scare ol man Hawkins jusa little… Jusa enough t let im know Dave Saunders is a man”(Wright 907).
If he had taken that hot, it could’ve possibly turned into the racial nightmare that King is warning everybody about. Even without the shot, as Dave leaves, some could argue that he is headed off to cause more violence, as this gun is what allows him to express himself to the destructive world around him. Oppression leading to violence is so eloquently displayed in King’s writing, though while these two pieces of literature may seem like a stretch to compare, they are really rather similar in scope.
Martin Luther King Jr’s writing focuses on the grand scheme of things, the overall concept, and the basis for why nonviolent protest is mportant; while Richard Wright’s short story emphasizes why these things are important, because without it we will have incidences such as the one Dave Saunders portrays in the story. They both are trying to tackle the same issue, just in different mediums, and with different techniques. Their audiences are also very similar; both speak to young African American’s at the time, while Wright is showing what not to do.
Through this, one uses a particular event as a form of logos, while another focuses more upon deductive reasoning, presenting different scenarios and why nonviolence will forever be the correct form of action. The arrangement of both texts is also quite different, as King’s does a lot more explaining around the reasons for his motives, while Wright displays Dave’s thoughts and actions all through Dave’s point of view, dropping the audience straight into his turmoil, and allowing them to feel how he feels, helping to create a great sense of pathos.
Comparing “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” to “Letter From Birmingham Jail” really adds a new dimension to each piece of literature. They are almost best to be read in tandem, King’s essay first, followed by Wright’s short story, as the themes discussed in King’s essay really come to ight through Wright’s writing. And, through King’s eyes a clear call to action is spoken through Wright’s story, it brings it up to the forefront of the discussion.
Wright wants to the world to realize, much like King, that nonviolent protest is crucial for people in general, not to mention those being oppressed, because without it they will turn to any means necessary, even violent ones, much like what Dave Saunders resorted to. History is, unfortunately, filled with oppression, and the only way to break this cycle of oppression is by protesting. Though, if humans are belittled so much, and every form of expression is stifled it beings to rise like gas in a bottle, eventually it will pop open, and it won’t be pretty.
Without a nonviolent form of expression, these repressed emotions will explode in violent and unpredictable ways, much like Dave Saunders in Richard Wright’s short story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”. Though, if we are able to heed Martin Luther King Jr’s words in his monumental essay, “Letter From Birmingham Jail”, we may be able to find other outlets, other peaceful ways of expressing the pain, and the oppression.