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There are many ways to read a story: as pure enjoyment, as evidence of the author’s point of
view, as a lesson about a historical period, as a social commentary, as an argument for a point of
view, and probably quite a few more that I can’t think of at the moment. But another way to read
a story is as an exploration into the human condition: to read, think, and learn about the strengths
and shortcomings of who we are as human beings.
I could even argue that the best authors are the best psychologists, that by giving us realistic
character, they have seen and understood what it is about ourselves we find so fascinating. An
unrealistic character has no draw; there is nothing for us to connect to, whereas the best
characters can stay alive for hundreds, even thousands of years. Just ask Hercules. This might be
the case of Dave Saunders, the protagonist in Richard Wright’s story, “The Man Who Was
Almost a Man.”
So, when we do happen upon a really good author with a really good story with a very realistic
character, it’s fun to take advantage. In the story, we have Dave, who at the end of the story is in
a very ambiguous place in his life. We don’t know what will happen to him next; we can only
imagine, and that is exactly what we are going to do: use our imaginations.
Imagine you encounter Dave at the next town. I know the story was written way
back, but again, imagine that it is the modern day. Now, for your paper, tell Dave
what you think he should do. Use THREE outside sources to back up your
1. Talk to Dave directly in the paper, like you are counseling him, talking to him. If you
want, you can start the paper by writing, “Dear Dave,” though you don’t have to. You do,
however, have to talk to Dave directly. “Dave, I heard about your story…” is a line that
would fit here. “I heard about Dave’s story” would not fit.
2. Reference bits of the story in your advice. After all, if you want him to listen, you want to
show him that you understand his feelings and his position. One good way to do that is to
show him you’ve been listening to his story.
3. Use MLA style citation for your sources. You are allowed to use any sources you want,
but the quality of the sources will be part of your grade. Evil thing to do, I know.
4. This is an essay, and follows the same rules of making claims and backing them up. Your
thesis is what you think he should do. But, at the same time, it’s you pretending to give
advice, so it has to sound natural. Achieving that balance is part of the educational
challenge of this paper.
5. You can give him any advice, save this: NO MILITARY! This isn’t an attack on the
armed forces. It’s just that it’s too easy and tempting and leads to a weak paper. Be
creative. Try to give advice that best suits who Dave is: talk about his desires, strengths,
weaknesses, and fears in a way that will get him to really listen to you. It can be career
advice, life advice, or anything that you think will put him in a better position than where
he is at the end of the story.
6. Some other weak/easy answers I’d rather you avoid: “Go home.” “Take responsibility.”
“Do what your parents tell you do to.” It’s not that these are wrong answers, but I’ve
given this assignment before, and these theses almost always lead to weak and unoriginal
papers. Instead, go for something weird, wacky, maybe controversial. Give me a new and
fresh idea, one only you can write.


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