Friday, January 12

The Man Who Was Almost A Man

Wright's "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" is, as the title suggests, a coming-of-age story. It has all the classic elements of this genre--the boy on the edge of manhood, desperate to prove himself; the overbearing mother, alternately coddling and berating him, and the Dream--in this case, a gun. Twice young Dave is told he is too young to need a gun, but he is determined to have one. Gripping the gun he feels powerful, excited; "They would have to respect him." (1930) But it is not to be: the first time he fires the gun, he accidentally kills his boss's mule Jenny, and a whole crowd of people gathers to witness his public humiliation and shame. The very thing that was supposed to make him respected has brought him ridicule. The thing that was supposed to make him feel free has left him more indebted and restricted than before. He jumps on a train with the gun still in his pocket, disappearing into the evening, and we are left to wonder about his future. Does he ever become a man? Does the gun eventually gain him respect, or does it lead him into even more trouble? And most importantly, what does this story really mean, beyond the obvious?

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine that Dave represents the blacks of America, struggling to gain respect, power, and real freedom in the face of ignorance and condescension. If that is indeed Wright's intention, then perhaps the story is meant to serve as a warning against the use of violence for the purpose of gaining power or respect. Jenny the mule is the innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire, used to warn of the consequences of such senseless demonstrations of force. Maybe even the title of the story has a deeper meaning. Although technically blacks were no longer considered two-thirds of a person for voting purposes when this story was first published (1939) it wasn't until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the black right to vote was truly established and protected. Just a thought. The Voting Rights Act comes up for renewal this year, here's an interesting article about that.

Tuesday, January 9

The Invisible Man

Well what a story. Talk about a cascade effect, it seems like everything Griffin does to get out of trouble only gets him deeper in it. No wonder he's totally insane. He steals from his father to make something of himself, and his father commits suicide because now he'sbroke. He finally has some success with making the neighbor's cat invisible, but then ends up having to go invisible himself just to escape his neighbor. Once he's invisible, Griffin's crimes are bolder because who is going to stop him? He continues to simply take what he needs for his own purposes, whether it be money, supplies, or poor Mr. Marvel's service. Wells seems to be asking a disturbing question about human nature and the individual's place in society--that is, if all accountability vanishes, if we know we cannot be punished or even caught, will we inevitably abuse that power for our own gains? We also wonder, what was it that really drove Griffin mad--the power that came with being invisible, or much earlier on, the powerlessness he felt at being poor? We know Wells was an outspoken socialist, so that would make sense. By showing us the darker side of Griffin's condition, perhaps he was alluding to the way a poor man feels invisible, and so is forced to all kinds of dreadful crimes simply to get by. Certainly if Griffin had never been poor, he would never have stolen money from his father, would never have stolen from anyone else, presumably would not have gone mad, and would not now be dead, beaten by an angry mob. I'm not sure I really buy the social commentary, but Wells was definitely a bright guy. Check out the latest in invisibilty news here. I'd love to hear what y'all think about the moral implications of THAT.