Guest Author - Nicole Pickens
The civil rights movement produced some of the most startling literature to circulate among American readers and writers. The concept of truth shifted. American citizens werenít willing accept the coat of sugar in everyday life presented in pretty advertisements and in the newly invented world of cinema. They knew better.
The ethnic writers of the time presented the harsh realities of a life only they experienced. They opened a secretive world not previously known to many of their neighbors outside their cultural doors. It was a world of repression and grief but they were also mirrors of universal living.
Richard Wright was one such author. In his story entitled ďThe Man Who Was Almost A ManĒ you see the common journey taken by both a teenager and his parents. It was published posthumously in 1961.
He began his tale by shaping his characters through the accuracy of their dialect. It was through their vernacular speech the reader painted the fullest picture. They were poor, uneducated and black in Jim Crowís South.
Wright didnít detail the lives of the characters. You donít read what kind of house they lived in or what they wore. Their physical attributes are not revealed. Youíre imagination was stimulated solely by the use of the characters vocalizations, both black and white.
The first character you meet was a teenager in what was probably considered his first job. As a teen he longed for independence but was not ready for the full responsibility of it. He struggled with winning the respect of his peers, authority figures and managing his personal fears. He daydreamed of how to function in his version of the world. His vision included possessing a gun to alleviate his fears.
His parents were portrayed as honest hard working people. They were laborers who taught him what they knew to function in life. The lessons were difficult for them too because teenagers are challenging. Their wisdom and advice fell on deaf ears.
The youth acquired a gun and of course, an accident ensued. He didnít mean for it to happen. The firearm had a mind of its own and he was powerless against it. He didnít do it on purpose. It wasnít his fault.
His parents agreed he had to accept financial responsibility for his mistake. They were aware of the severity of his folly and were grateful it didnít have a more dreadful outcome.
Toward the end of the story, the teenager decided to embrace independence with his gun in the middle of the night.
Wright focused more on the universal concepts of parenthood and teenagers. It was a familiar reaction you frequently hear in modern day families. Yet, the bite of racism was evident throughout the story.
I guess it was easy to grasp one thread over the other.