Dave is both an average adolescent struggling with growing up and the embodiment of all frustrated and impoverished African Americans without opportunities. On one level, Dave’s experiences are not unique: he’s a stereotypical teenager seeking a level of maturity and independence that he’s not yet ready for. He can imagine the benefits of adulthood but doesn’t understand the obligations that come with more freedom of choice. Searching for a quick way to become a man, he focuses on the guns for sale in Joe’s mail-order catalogue, falsely believing that raw power will automatically win him the respect he desires. His murderous fantasies highlight his fixation with physical strength and misperception that the power to kill brings the power to control. Impatient, Dave tries to initiate his own rite of passage into manhood without making any of the sacrifices that come with adulthood.
Dave is a figure of the times, a field hand’s son who has no choice but to become a field hand himself. Chained to a life of barely making ends meet, he lacks the education and opportunities to make his life better because white society forbids it. He feels that his life is so harsh and overwhelming that escape is the only solution. He expresses this urge in several ways, initially in the lies he tells, with his willful bending of the truth to make the world around him more in line with his hopes and desires. Dave’s quest for adulthood and ultimate escape thus marks a shifting tide in society, as more black Americans broke with their past and ties to the South in search of new opportunities elsewhere.