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A writer, in his most abject and humane form, is serving the purpose of expressing his personal and intimate reflections of the world to the complete stranger who reads his works. Writers who can perform this purpose to a great extent have the much-vied-for talent of making the reader empathize with their plight, travel into their world, and therefore completely understanding the emotional and psychological turbulences that they want to express. This writing technique is beyond any skill that can be taught or learnt for it comes from deep within, when the words and scenes that are expressed are truly meaningful and close to the heart of the author themselves.
Such an example is found in Rick Bragg’s work, “All Over But the Shoutin’” in which he writes of his poverty-stricken life in Alabama with his alcoholic father and struggling-against-all-odds mother. He describes in great and painfully empathetic detail the life of the ‘white trash’ community using clear metaphors and brave explanations. Bragg’s life presents to the reader as a great insight into the life of a boy whose laughter and tears become real as the scenes from a troubled childhood progress in the story. He speaks with passion regarding his early days with a hint of bittersweet sarcasm and nostalgia. “It was a place where the screams of panthers, like a woman’s anguished cry, still haunted the most remote ridges and hollows in the dead of night, where children believed they could choke off the cries of night birds by circling one wrist with a thumb and forefinger and squeezing tight, and where the cotton blew off the wagons and hung like scraps of cloud in the branches of trees” (Bragg, p. 5). His descriptions are vivid and hit the core of the theme that he aims to provide to the reader. His comparisons are powerfully drawn from real life when he finds himself as being labeled as the “Jaybird” and that he cannot associate with the “well-scrubbed” at age 6. His critical approach at the community he lives in makes the reader completely aware of the circumstances he is trying to communicate. For example, as he writes about the desperate poverty that haunts his town, he explains the hypocrisy of the church as he describes the Sunday preaching in these words: “while sickness and poverty and Lucifer might take their families, the soul of man never dies” (Bragg, p. 7).
It is the prowess of his writing technique, his skill to use analogies, comparisons, fluency of thought and imagination as well as creativity that brings both tears and laughter to the reader. The writing is fluid and effective which makes the descriptions easy and understandable. There is considerable margin for complication in understanding the nature of his life and situations. However, through his clarity of language, firmness of description and well-chosen words for interpretation of his experiences, the reader knows exactly what the time and place were like, what exactly was the writer feeling during that phase and the emotional flow that comes as a result of this. It becomes a very natural course for the reader to feel what the central characters and the world around those characters are going through. A major influence was the fact that he knew the place and the people. For a writer to accurately and so feelingly describe something old and long-lost, his powers of description have to be very strong. Even if it is a long-forgotten time, he needs to understand and know the time and the place as clearly as he can see his present.
Rick Bragg’s descriptions are so vivid and understandable that one does not even feel that they are being transported into a time where the author’s life was very different than what it is now. The experiences are clearly painful and it must have taken a great amount of effort and bravery for the author to revisit the old memories and describe them so precisely. Perhaps it is this brave effort, combined with his prowess as a writer, is what makes the book a memorable and exceptional read.
Bragg, Rick. All Over but the Shoutin’. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997.