Rick Bragg’s memoir is chalk full of risk factors and protective factors alike as illustrated in the previous page entitled, “Life Journey”. However, when applying both risk and protective factors to the bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework of human behavior one can conceptualize a deeper meaning to his story.


"The whiskey was like tonic to him, I guess. It warmed instead of burned. I just sat in a chair way across the room, waiting. I had experienced with drunks, with him as a child, and later kinfolks who staggered into our house for a place to sleep"(Bragg, p.14).

Charles Bragg

The predominant biological risk factor in the Rick Bragg story is familial alcoholism. Studies have recorded a direct linkage between the risk factor of alcoholism and family genetics. For example, a study conducted of 568 M alcoholics who were treated at various Veterans Administration hospitals concluded that alcoholics with a positive family history were found to have the following risk factors: 1) an earlier onset of alcoholism, 2) greater alcoholic severity, 3) more medical and legal problems, 4)broader range of treatments, 5) an increased lifetime prevalence of additional psychiatric disorders, and lastly, 6) a greater diversity of psychiatric disturbance among biological relatives. Interviews were conducted to compare the clinical characteristics of patients with a positive (65%) or negative (35%) family history of abusive drinkers among first degree relatives. The possible outcomes of this study may be a result in assortative mating accounting to the clinical differences between the familial and non-familial alcoholism (Penick, 1987).

There is evidence suggested in Rick Bragg’s memoir of familial alcoholism as his father and grandfather were both abusive-
Alabama Whiskey Bottle
Alabama Whiskey Bottle
drinkers. Therefore, one may conclude that his youngest sibling, Mark Bragg, may have been genetically pre-disposed to this insidious disease. He grew up in a household with an absent father (an alcoholic who subsequently died from cirrhosis of the liver) so; one can argue that even though Mark never witnessed the behavior of his father’s abusive
drinking his strong genetics played an integral part in pre-determining his alcoholism.


"The men drank--Lord, how they could drink---from endless cans of beer or from a jug if they had one" (Bragg, p.58).
Whiskey Jugs
Whiskey Jugs

Genetic and socio-environmental factors interact through biological mechanisms to generate the complexities of behavior, which includes early-age problematic involvement with alcohol (Sroufe and Rutter, 1984). In the life course approach to understanding familial alcoholism one can apply the developmental perspective to understanding the complexity of the problem. In addition, this perspective aids in understanding the importance and relativity of protective factors explaining why possibly Rick Bragg did not become an alcoholic.

The developmental perspective encompasses the fields of developmental psychopathology, human brain development, and behavior genetics. It is the systems biology approach which states that human maturation is multidirectional and includes reciprocal interactions that change over time (Sroufe and Rutter, 1984). This suggests Rick Bragg’s roots of risk and resiliency in maturational pathways and developmental stages proved to be possible protective factors in the biological perspective.

Another biological protective factor for Rick Bragg can be seen through his innate ability of self-regulation. Self-regulation is the body’s ability to monitor and regulate internal states. It includes the ability to regulate neuro-cognitive capacities in engaging in goal-directed behavior (e.g. attention, planning, organization, concept formation, abstract reasoning, cognitive flexibility, self-monitoring, and motor programming) (Stuss and Benson, 1984) as seen in Rick Bragg with his overwhelming determination to organize his life in such a way as to achieve his one goal in life-making his mother happy and comfortable. Never deviating from this goal.

very well done.. focus on alcoholism appropriate.. what about other health/bilogical factors??


"The closest thing we had ever had to a home of our own was a small trailer we lived in for only a few months, when I was a boy” (Bragg, p.151).

The realitites of Poverty in Alabama
The realitites of Poverty in Alabama

Early childhood poverty means prior to age 5, a family living with an income level which falls below a specified level necessary for minimum coverage of basic expenses set by the U.S. Census Bureau. During recent decades researchers have documented the negative child outcomes associated with living under the poverty threshold especially during the first 5 years of life (Ducan, Yeung Brooks-Gunn, & Smith, 1998). The detrimental outcomes that may be grouped by category include the following: 1) poor physical health (e.g. Jason & Jarvis, 1997; Pollitt, 1994), 2) lower intellectual attainment and poor school performance (e.g. Dubow & Ippolito, 1994; Guo, 1998), and 3) an increase likelihood of social emotional, and behavioral problems (e.g. Dubow, & Ippolito, 1994; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994).

Living in rural Alabama was the biggest psycho-social risk factor for Rick Bragg. Breaking the chain of familial poverty is nearly impossible however, he did it.

yes, you've identified the risk factors associated with poverty in general.. which of these would be unique to Rick Bragg .. i.e. he really didn't have poor physical health or lower intellectual attainment.. try to be more specfic here

Poverty in the Rural South
Poverty in the Rural South
Poverty in Rural Alabama
Poverty in Rural Alabama


a lot if Mark would have been different, if he had just had me, like I had Sam. Maybe not. Probably not. I guess we’ll never know, and in a sad way, that will by my salvation” (Bragg, p.171).


Resiliency is an end product that buffers processes that do not eliminate risk, but encourage the individual to engage with risk effectively. These repeated experiences with active coping and stress buffering can build or enhance resilience. It reminds us that
there are positive and optimistic outcomes that occur in spite of, or even because of, the individual’s exposure to risk (Johnson 2003).

yes.. good point

This is demonstrated as one of the major themes throughout Rick Bragg’s story. Living in poverty presents many stresses on daily life. Adaptation was a coping mechanism for Rick and his brothers. Their sheer ability to adapt to new environments was astonishing. Moved by their mother and father several times during childhood they demonstrated great strength and character by being flexible to change. Faith, hope, and a dream for a “normal” future with her husband, their father, Margaret would reconcile with Charlie until she finally came to the conclusion that it was a lost cause. Charlie suffered from an affliction that he could not overcome. Rick Bragg’s resiliency saved his life.

When studying resiliency in childhood poverty researchers have shown that children need to learn the uniqueness of their family lifestyle and have it acknowledged as well as appreciated. Children must have their own cultures recognized and valued before or while they are learning about other cultures (Stringfield & Land, 2002). Rick Bragg understood his culture of poverty and valued it-
Life here between the meandering dirt roads and skinny blacktop was full, rich, original and real, but harsh, hard, mean as a damn snake” (Bragg, p.4).


To be a Southerner in this job is to live a dream, even if you never really dared to dream it" (Bragg, p.267).

Education for Rick was a social protective factor. He was naturally bright in school and was one of the first in his family to read. Remarkably, he furthered his education by attending college, Jacksonville State University, even though it was one class. "For my one class, I picked feature writing under the formidable Mamie B. Herb….She gave me a B, but it was a talented and promising B” (Bragg, p.121). It was there that he found peace and was offered a paying job at the local newspaper, The Jacksonville News. This protective factor afforded him the opportunity for a successful adult adaptation.

this is a very important aspect that helped him build resiliency.. and actually helped account for his 'succes' in life.. would have liked to see a bit more elaboration and focus here

Spiritual Risk and Protective Factors
Church in Rural Alabama
Church in Rural Alabama

“The look on those faces, on all those upturned, adoring faces, reminds me of the faces of people in church, the people who have been touched deep down by the preacher’s words, who raise their hands into the air, reaching out to Jesus, saved. They are in The Rapture. They are packed tight into this smoky auditorium in the pipe shop town of Anniston, Alabama, but that little man in the rumpled suit is taking them someplace higher (Bragg, p.61).

Being reared in the Deep South for Rick Bragg had its own branding of spirituality-A group known as Christian Fundamentalists. The Bragg family .. the family or his mother?? was devoutly religious. This could be seen as a protective factor. His mother loved the church but she was too embarrassed to step foot in hers as she lacked a proper Sunday dress-One of many sacrifices she made for her family. Margaret Bragg, his mother, pulled all of her strength and faith from Christian principles, however, Rick Bragg did not. He recalls his mother laying her hands on a television set while watching Oral Roberts and praying. Rick Bragg was not a believer as a child nor was he through his life journey to adulthood. The risk factors of poverty and bandonment/neglect prohibited him from engaging in any organized or formal religious practices. He struggled with Christian principles as he had witnessed his mother repeatedly beaten by his abusive father when he was a child and the neglect he suffered from his father’s abandonment of the family. Thus, he questioned Christianity. Say more about this..

Racism was a spiritual risk factor for Rick Bragg as well. Inequality had a place in Rick’s early childhood as he had seen the Blacks and the poor Whites that picked cotton with his mother stand right next to one another and never utter a word-complete silence as if they were non-existent. He admits to growing up in a household where the usage of the word nigger was prevalent in everyday language (Hutchinson, p.61). He recounts the many degrees of meanness from humanity and states, “If you sit and talk to old black people, the people who recall my time of childhood, they will tell you the degrees of hatred, degrees of ignorance, and calculating those degrees, over decades, was a means of survival. They will tell you that the depth of that meanness and hatred and ignorance varies from soul to soul, that white Southerners are not the same and symmetrical, like the boards in a white picket fence” (Bragg, 62).

The true spiritual protective factor for Rick Bragg was his sense of meaning and purpose in life EXCELLENT OBSERVATION AND ANALYSIS .. . It was to find a higher purpose. Spirituality is defined as a purpose or direction to one’s life (Hutchinson, p. 590). The goal he set for his own personal freedom or spirituality was the liberation of his mother oppression from poverty. This would be the path he chose all while battling his own demons inside-the inner struggle of being so much like his father but identifying with his mother. Loyalty to his mother was part of his spiritual being. VERY INSIGHTFUL.. WOULD LIKE TO SEE THIS MORE DEVELOPED


Bragg, R. (1997). All Over But The Shoutin.New York; Vintage Books; A Division of Random House, Inc.

Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. J. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children, 7(2), 55-71.

Dubow, E. F., & Ippolito, M. E. (1994). Effects of poverty and quality of the home environment on changes in the academic and behavioral adjustment of elementary school-age children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 23(4), 401-412.

Duncan, G. J., Yeung, W. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Smith, J. R. (1998). How much does childhood poverty affect the life chances of children? American Sociological Review, 63(3), 406-423.

Hutchinson, E. (2008). Dimensions of Human Behavior (3rd.ed.) The Changing Life Course. Thousand Oaks, CA; Sage Publications.

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Psychotherapy. ABC Psychology Resources, 59 (11), 1193-1203.

Penick,E. C. (1987). A comparative study of familial alcoholism. Journal of studies on alcohol, 48(2), 136-146.

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Stuss, D.T., and Benson, D.F (1984). Neuropsychological studies of the frontal lobes. Psychological Bulletin, 95:3-28.

Stringfield, S., & Land, D. (2002). Educating At-Risk Students. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press



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Whiskey Jug Photo Retrieved From: