Rick Bragg was born in 1959 in an impoverished white community to an alcoholic father and a hard working mother who wanted the best for her children but could only provide the minimum. He started working at small newspapers before moving to New York Times in 1994. All Over But The Shoutin’ is the story of Bragg’s childhood, his struggles with his alcoholic father who was violent with his mother and his early work as a journalist.
Relevance of the Title
“All Over But the Shouting” is an idiom that means “the outcome is known”. The book tells the story of Bragg’s childhood through which his alcoholic father was a disruptive force and his mother slaved to provide some kind of life to her sons. They lived in shacks that had no doors or windows. His mother longed for a house of her own which Rick was able to buy for her when he made sufficient money as an author and journalist.
Rick Bragg’s early life was marked by dehumanizing poverty. Poverty reduced life into a constant struggle to get by. The person who was most affected by it was his mother. She had to work in the houses of well to do people, she ate little and for eighteen years, she bought no new clothes but made to do with what she was given by others. Rick was an attractive teenager but girls dropped him as soon as they saw his house. This gave him a complex that lasted for a long time – he wanted to prove that he was better than others.
Drinking and violence
Drinking was a kind of coming of age ritual. Violence and drinking went hand in hand. Men believed that to kill and maim was the manly thing to do. This was the environment in which Rick and his brothers grew up. To remain unaffected by the violence was impossible.
He is the main character in this memoir. Rick Bragg chronicles his life during his early years. Most of the time, his father is not around and when he is around, he brings discord into the house with his drinking. He is violent, hitting his wife when she objects to his ways. If he had his way, he would have thrashed his children too but his wife prevents that. The extreme poverty that marked Rick’s childhood shapes his attitudes as an adult. He believes that only by excelling in everything he does can he prove his worth. What he wants more than anything else is to buy a house for his mother.
She is Rick’s mother for whom Rick has most respect and love. When very young, she would place him on a sack and pull it along when she went to pluck cotton for landowners. Being dragged around by her was one of his first memories and the one he loved the most. Margaret wanted the best for her children. Her husband was an alcoholic who appeared rarely and when he did, he was violent. So they preferred that he stayed away.
All Over But The Shoutin’ is written in three parts. They are called Widow’s Mite, Lies To My Mother and Getting Even With Life. The first part which consists of fifteen chapters details the early years of Rick’s life when her mother’ mostly alone, fended for him and his two brothers. His father, a Korean War veteran who was an alcoholic, disappeared for long periods of time. His presence was disruptive as he was violent and abusive. Poor whites who had no education and no means of earning a decent living were called “white trash”. The Bragg family was white trash too. But the mother had hopes and dreams for her children. Sports, fighting and cars figured prominently in the boys’ lives much to the mother’s dismay.
Lies To My Mother chronicles the teen years when Rick begins writing for newspapers. Starting small, he climbed up the rungs fast, moving from Alabama to Florida. During these years he polished his writing style. When he was twenty, he was already with the New York Times, reporting on a variety of subjects.
Getting Even With Life is about his successes in journalism and his meteoric climb in New York Times. His secret desire to buy his mother a house is fulfilled. His report on Haiti won him the Pulitzer Prize.
The author often saw redbirds when he roamed around the countryside. What struck him was the belligerence of these birds. They seem to fight amongst each other all the time. They would not hesitate to attack their own reflection in mirrors or glass. In the author’s mind these birds were like the people in his community. There was much violence amidst the “white trash”. Killings were common.
- “Anyone could tell it, anyone who had a momma who went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes, who picked cotton in other people’s fields and ironed other people’s clothes and cleaned the mess in other people’s houses, so that her children didn’t have to live on welfare alone, so that one of them could climb up her back bone and escape the poverty and hopelessness that ringed them, free and clean. Anyone could tell it, and that’s the shame of it”
In these lines, Rick Bragg criticizes the policies in America that created wide disparities of income. Some were rich and some were dirt poor like Bragg’s family. To ensure that her children ate and went to school, Rick’s mother worked in the homes of rich people and went without new clothes for eighteen years.
- “You do not hate the time you waste; it evokes a much more passive emotion than that. You only wish you had it back, like a quarter in an unlucky slot machine.”
These are words spoken about the bad habit Rick had of wasting time and later regretting it. He compares it to the regret one feels on wasting money on a slot machine. One wishes to get back the time that has been wasted.
- “It was a good moment, the kind you would like to press between the pages of a book, or hide in your sock drawer, so you could touch it again.”
Moments that were pleasurable came rarely in life. So rare that one wished to preserve it like a pressed flower between the pages of book or a memento in a sock drawer which could be easily accessed.
- “Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.”
Extreme poverty robs the sufferer of their dignity. When the means to afford the basics of life – a clean home, clean clothes and sufficient food, these are non-negotiable essentials. But Rick’s life all these until he moved to New York. His goal in life was to provide his mother with a home that she could call her own.