Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Vance finished eighth grade and Bev completed a full year of sobriety. In addition, Lindsay married and had a child. In short, all was well. That is, until Bev decided she and J.D. would be moving to Dayton, Ohio to live in Matt’s house. Dayton is 45 minutes from Middletown, a fact that distressed Vance because it meant that he wouldn’t see Mamaw, Lindsay and her new baby, or his friends at school. Because of this, he refused to go, saying, “Absolutely not,” before stomping away and leading his mother to believe he had anger problems.
For the first time, J.D. stood up for himself in the face of his mother’s authority. Though he never frames personal agency as a rebellious act, it is evident that his declaration that he would “absolutely not” move to Dayton with his mother was the first moment in which he realized he could possibly have some control over his own life.
Themes
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Bev scheduled a time for J.D. to meet with her and her therapist, an experience Vance writes “felt like an ambush.” The therapist quickly took Bev’s side, and it became clear to J.D. that she had formulated opinions about him based on what his mother had told her. To remedy this, he delivered a long speech that detailed the specifics of his life, though he intentionally left out elements of domestic abuse for the same reasons he hadn’t testified against Bev after she was arrested for threatening to kill him—he was protecting her. Still, his point came across, and the therapist said, “Perhaps we should meet alone.” Vance notes that he only told the therapist half of what he felt, leaving out that he felt trapped by the fact that he had nobody to turn to; Papaw was dead and Mamaw was aging quickly and seemed too frail to care for a 14-year-old boy.
By refusing to disclose legally condemning information about his mother to the therapist, J.D. yet again adhered to the hillbilly code of ethics, choosing loyalty over his best interests. Even though his life may have improved if authorities found out that his mother mistreated him, he chose to protect her. This makes sense when one considers the fact that the hillbilly identity was perhaps the only thing J.D. could rely upon. He had witnessed the most important people in his life—Mamaw, Papaw, the Blanton men—championing this mode of being, so to give it up would be to part with the only model of existence that had consistently remained part of his life.
Themes
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Instead of following Bev to Dayton, Vance decided to live with Don Bowman, his father. Don was happy to have him, and the time they spent together affirmed that he was a kind man who could offer Vance a stable life. Nonetheless, Vance missed Mamaw and Lindsay, and after only a couple weeks at Don’s, he decided to go home. Mamaw had told him the night before on the phone that she loved him and that she wanted him to know that he was always welcome in her house. The next day, Vance called Lindsay and asked her to drive him to Mamaw’s. And although Don was disappointed, he understood that J.D. needed to be with his Mamaw.
Don’s peaceful life was most likely disorienting to J.D. because it didn’t embody the hillbilly values he’d grown up with. It was true that these same values often brought chaos and violence into his young life, but it was also true that the hillbilly identity was the only thing he had ever been able to invest himself in fully. In this moment, Vance illustrates how hard it is to give up one’s cultural identity for the sake of upward mobility, which seems to demand that a person leave their previous life behind.
Themes
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
After living with Mamaw for the remainder of the summer before starting ninth grade, Vance agreed to move to Dayton, so long as he could keep going to Middletown’s high school. Around this time, Bev and Matt’s relationship took a turn for the worse; “Living with [them] was like having a front-row seat to the end of the world,” Vance writes. Then one day Bev told J.D. she was getting married. “I honestly thought you and Matt were going to break up,” he said. “Well, I’m not getting married to him,” she replied. Apparently, she had fallen for her boss at the local dialysis center, who had asked her out to dinner the week before. His name was Ken, and his house was the fourth one J.D. had lived in in just two years.
Bev’s decision to move in with Ken highlights her restless spirit. Rather than pursuing upward mobility or trying to improve her life by devoting herself to her children, she addressed her own unhappiness by constantly changing her immediate circumstances. These fluctuations, though, never inspired actual large-scale change, a fact that reinforces Vance’s emerging portrayal of the cyclical nature of poverty, wherein a person simulates progress without actually making any tangible steps to climb the socioeconomic ladder.
Themes
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
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One of Ken’s three children fought with Bev, meaning that—because of hillbilly loyalty—he also had to fight with J.D. One night, J.D. heard this boy call his mother a bitch. And though he didn’t even particularly want to fight, he made it “abundantly clear” that he was going to “beat [his] new stepbrother to within an inch of his life.” In response, Ken and Bev decided to separate the boys, and J.D. and his mother went to spend the night at Mamaw’s. Amidst this tension, Vance’s grades suffered at school and he started experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. He also felt “detached” from Lindsay, since she’d established an adult life of her own with a happy family, leaving him “mired” in domestic discord and instability.
In this section, Vance allows his teenage experimentation with marijuana to represent the ways in which children take cues from their parents. Although he hated his mother for her drug addiction, he found himself dabbling with recreational drugs. By showing readers the cause-and-effect influence of his mother’s addiction, Vance illustrates that this sort of behavior establishes patterns that keep working-class hillbillies in poverty, rendering it even more unlikely that they will succeed in securing any form of upward mobility.
Themes
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon