Hillbilly Elegy


J. D. Vance

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Hillbilly Elegy Characters

J.D. Vance

The author and narrator of Hillbilly Elegy. As the memoir reveals, Vance grew up in working-class Middletown, Ohio, but he views his true home as Jackson, Kentucky, where his mother, Bev, was raised… read analysis of J.D. Vance


Vance’s grandmother, and Bev’s mother. Having spent most of her life in Jackson, Kentucky, Mamaw came from a family that “would shoot at you rather than argue with you.” Vance makes clear that… read analysis of Mamaw


Vance’s grandfather, and Bev’s father. Like Mamaw, his wife, he grew up in Jackson, Kentucky and fully embodied the hillbilly lifestyle. In his early years of fatherhood, he was a ferocious drinker… read analysis of Papaw

Bev Vance

J.D.’s mother, and the daughter of Mamaw and Papaw. J.D. writes that, unlike her brother Jimmy and her sister Lori, Bev succumbed to the statistical odds of growing up in an unstable… read analysis of Bev Vance


Bev’s daughter and J.D.’s half-sister, though he considers her a full sibling, considering the fact that they are so close. When Bev was acting up on drugs or fighting with her lovers, Lindsay… read analysis of Lindsay
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Aunt Wee (Lori Vance)

J.D.’s aunt, and Bev’s younger sister. Aunt Wee dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen and quickly married an abusive husband who forbade her from visiting the rest of her… read analysis of Aunt Wee (Lori Vance)

Uncle Jimmy

J.D.’s uncle, and Bev’s older brother. Despite the toxic domestic environment created by Mamaw and Papaw’s constant fighting, Jimmy found a way to graduate high school, attend night school, and attain a… read analysis of Uncle Jimmy


J.D.’s wife, formerly one of his fellow students at Yale Law School. Usha and Vance started dating while they were still in the program, a relationship that eventually led to marriage. Vance frequently turns… read analysis of Usha

Bob Hamel

One of Bev’s husbands, who she married after divorcing Don Bowman. Bob officially adopted J.D. and treated him and Lindsay well, but Mamaw disliked him because he came from the same social class… read analysis of Bob Hamel

Don Bowman

J.D.’s biological father. Mamaw and Bev claimed that Don was an abusive husband and a neglectful parent, a father who willingly abandoned the family. When as a teenager Vance reconnected with him, though, he… read analysis of Don Bowman

Uncle Pet

One of Mamaw’s brothers, or—as J.D. refers to them—the “Blanton boys.” Vance considers Pet and his other great-uncles the “gatekeepers of the family’s oral tradition.” In one particularly gruesome story about hillbilly justice (the… read analysis of Uncle Pet

Big Red

A truck driver who, while making a delivery, told Uncle Pet, “Off-load this now, you son of a bitch.” Uncle Pet warned him against speaking like that about his mother, but Big Red refused… read analysis of Big Red

Amy Chua

A professor at Yale Law School. Amy served as Vance’s mentor while he worked toward his law degree, advising him in terms of both academics and personal life. In fact, it was Amy who… read analysis of Amy Chua


One of Bev’s boyfriends, who she dated when J.D. was thirteen. Matt was a firefighter and a genuinely kind person. J.D. refers to him as his “favorite of all of [Bev’s] men,” and notes… read analysis of Matt


Bev’s boss at a dialysis center. Bev met Ken while she was still dating Matt, and several months later decided to marry him. For a brief period, J.D. went to live with Ken… read analysis of Ken


A teenager from Kentucky who reminds Vance of himself as a fifteen-year-old. Like Bev, Brian’s mother is addicted to drugs. Furthermore, he has a complicated relationship with his father. Not long after Vance took… read analysis of Brian
Minor Characters
Uncle Teaberry
One of Mamaw’s brothers, whom Vance refers to as the “Blanton boys.” He was the oldest of the Blanton clan, and the meanest, too.