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Important Quotations Explained

1. Could kill a man with a gun like this. Kill anybody, black or white. And if he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him.

Withdrawing the pistol from underneath his pillow, Dave marvels at the gun’s potential power and capabilities. Even though he doesn’t actually know how to use it, the pistol gives Dave the sense of power and masculinity he desperately wants yet can’t seem to muster on his own. Dave’s musings, however, also reveal a darker desire to strike back at those he feels have abused and ridiculed him. He presumably daydreams not only about killing the other black plantation workers who laughed at him in the story’s opening line, but also the empowered whites who unfairly control his and the other black workers’ lives. Wright uses Dave in this way to explore the destructive influence of racism and lack of economic opportunity on the lives of black Americans. Although Dave never actually kills anyone, the fact that he runs away with the gun at the end of the story suggests that he still harbors the desire for power and maybe even revenge. Dave’s musings may reflect his potential just as much as his desire: he could kill if he had a gun in his hand. These thoughts are probably nothing more than the fantasies of a typical adolescent boy, but Wright leaves open the possibility for future violence and never resolves the issue.

2. Ahead the long rails were glinting in the moonlight, stretching away, away to somewhere, somewhere where he could be a man.

Dave’s sudden decision to hop on a train comes as an unexpected ending to the typical coming-of-age story and reflects Dave’s deeper struggle with the oppressive social and economic forces of the day. Although Dave’s wrangling to purchase the pistol and then covering up Jenny’s death highlight the struggles of growing up that all teenagers face, the fact that he runs away suggests that Dave also feels oppressed and strangled in his community. He needs more than mere recognition and acceptance—he needs opportunities that field work can’t provide. Running away allows Dave to exert control over his own destiny for the first time in his life, despite the fact that he’s irresponsibly abandoning his family, debts, and commitments like a child. Trying to take control of his life in this way without serious regard to the consequences or future, therefore, makes Dave only “almost a man.”

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Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®) / Edition 5