Will McAneny Brian and Kate Enhancing Honors November 14, 2011 All Souls Reflection


In All Souls, Michael Patrick MacDonald paints a vivid picture of daily life in Southie, the neighborhood that at the time contained the greatest concentration of white poverty in the United States. He writes with stunning frankness on the horrible events that defined his childhood, including the deaths of four siblings by drugs, suicide, and gang violence, and the descent into insanity of a fifth. However, what gives his writing such power isn’t his descriptions of what happened to him, but rather how those events and the general culture of Southie affected him and those around him. Through an anthropological examination of a truly unique group of people, MacDonald draws many connections between the relative oppression and poverty that defined his society to the tragedies that rocked his family and many others. Overall, to me All Souls seems to be above all a testament to the corruptive influence of poverty and socioeconomic inequality. To me, every single tragic event MacDonald describes in his memoir can be traced back to a single root cause: inequality. For example, the social pressure and incentivizing to join Whitey Bulger’s gang that his brothers experienced ultimately took their lives. However, it was the willingness of local, state, and national governments to allow poverty to fester and grow unchecked in Southie—basically ignoring the neighborhood outright—that provided the power vacuum that allowed the gang to take over in the first place. Additionally, the bigoted backlash of Southie residents against the African-Americans bused into their neighborhood to go to their public schools was in turn an understandable reaction to a people to whom the power of expression had been so long denied. In a society where they lived as

an underclass, the residents of Southie clung to the one thing they had left that gave them


social status: their whiteness. In contrast, in a society where all races possessed some form of power, no race of people would be forced to use ethnicity as an excuse to gain it. Finally, one can draw a clear link between poverty and what to me was the most tragic condition of all: the code of silence that existed in Southie. In the neighborhood, people were strongly conditioned not to talk about their problems, whether they be simple poverty or the death of an immediate family member. Again, the dehumanizing nature of poverty forced Southie residents to cling to their pride when all else had failed them, at the expense of their happiness. One of the questions I find myself asking after reading All Souls is: once all the “yuppies” move into gentrifying neighborhoods such as Southie, where do the poor people go? This weekend, I went to Southie for the first time, and was struck by how welldeveloped, how nice the area was. Granted, we were by the waterfront in what is surely one of the “better parts” of Southie, but it was still a far cry from the urban wasteland that MacDonald describes. I’ve talked to some of my friends about this, and they’ve simply said that the poor go to “the suburbs.” However, in my hometown of Oakland, California, where much of the city proper is still ungentrified, the suburbs are a nice area overwhelmingly home to upper-middle class white families. While my specific question remains unresolved, I can make one conclusion: as inner-city neighborhoods become “hot property” and rising rents drive out poorer residents, those forced to leave their homes must split up and break the bonds that so often gave them a sense of pride and community. Overall, All Souls opened my eyes to the issue of urban poverty, and the importance of any steps made to alleviate it.