The character of Bev Vance in Hillbilly Elegy from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes

Hillbilly Elegy

Bev Vance Character Analysis

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 home that modeled a cycle of substance abuse and domestic violence. In adulthood, Bev found herself unable to settle down with only one partner, instead constantly rotating through new boyfriends and husbands—father figures who flew in and out of J.D.’s young life. Like Mamaw, Bev is brash, hot-headed, and never willing to back down from a fight. This attitude is compounded by her addictive personality, as she fuels her own fury and instability with various harmful substances. When J.D. was growing up, she used to stay out late drinking, and when Papaw died, she developed a serious dependency on prescription narcotics—a dependency that eventually led her to heroin. As such, she was in and out of rehab throughout the course of Vance’s teenage years, constantly proving herself unworthy of his trust before begging for his forgiveness and help. Although he doesn’t shy away from portraying his mother unfavorably, Vance makes sure to point out Bev’s positive qualities. A former nurse, she is incredibly intelligent and values the importance of education. She was even the salutatorian of her high school class, though she had to postpone a college degree because she gave birth to J.D.’s sister Lindsay shortly after graduating. Despite the fact that she failed to support her children, Vance notes that she did, at least, instill in them the sense that intellectual pursuits are worthwhile.

Bev Vance Quotes in Hillbilly Elegy

The Hillbilly Elegy quotes below are all either spoken by Bev Vance or refer to Bev Vance. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of Hillbilly Elegy published in 2017.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Within two generations, the transplanted hillbillies had largely caught up to the native population in terms of income and poverty level. Yet their financial success masked their cultural unease, and if my grandparents caught up economically, I wonder if they ever truly assimilated. They always had one foot in the new life and one foot in the old one. They slowly acquired a small number of friends but remained strongly rooted in their Kentucky homeland.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw, Papaw , Bev Vance, Aunt Wee (Lori Vance) , Uncle Jimmy
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

The problems of our community hit close to home. Mom’s struggles weren’t some isolated incident. They were replicated, replayed, and relived by many of the people who, like us, had moved hundreds of miles in search of a better life. There was no end in sight. Mamaw had thought she escaped the poverty of the hills, but the poverty—emotional, if not financial—had followed her.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw, Bev Vance
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

In my own head, I was better than my past. I was strong. I left town as soon as I could, served my country in the Marines, excelled at Ohio State, and made it to the country’s top law school. I had no demons, no character flaws, no problems. But that just wasn’t true. The things I wanted most in the entire world—a happy partner and a happy home—required constant mental focus. My self-image was bitterness masquerading as arrogance. A few weeks into my second year of law school, I hadn’t spoken to Mom in many months, longer than at any point in my life. I realized that of all the emotions I felt toward my mother—love, pity, forgiveness, anger, hatred, and dozens of others—I had never tried sympathy. I had never tried to understand my mom.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Bev Vance
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

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Bev Vance Character Timeline in Hillbilly Elegy

The timeline below shows where the character Bev Vance appears in Hillbilly Elegy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
After Uncle Jimmy, Mamaw and Papaw had two more children: Vance’s mother Bev and his Aunt Wee (her real name is Lori). Following several years of relative peace,... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...children, for although they themselves modeled domestic instability, they believed their economic achievements put Jimmy, Bev, and Lori in a position to surpass their own accomplishments. Fortunately, Lori found a way... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...children. First of all, they helped Lori escape her abusive first husband. They also lent Bev money to help her pay for childcare, gave her shelter, supported her when she frequently... (full context)
Chapter 4
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...taught him multiplication. From then on, they practiced math together once a week. And though Bev wasn’t good with numbers, she took Vance to the public library before he could read,... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...in kindergarten that his father, Don Bowman, was giving him up for adoption. Don was Bev’s second husband, but they split up shortly after Vance was born. Not long afterward, Bev... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...home and saw Mamaw’s car in the driveway. He learned that she had come because Bev had attempted to commit suicide after Bob discovered she was having an affair and demanded... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
When Vance was particularly angry with his mother one day (he doesn’t remember why), Bev apologized profusely and offered to buy him something at the mall. On the way, though,... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Bev was released on bond, and Vance was asked to speak at her hearing. Understanding that... (full context)
Chapter 6
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...moment to sing the praises of his sister Lindsay, who served as his protector when Bev’s life was chaotic and dangerous. Indeed, he admits that he always saw Lindsay as “more... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
As time went on, Bev’s romantic partners continued to come in and out of Vance’s life, and it became clear... (full context)
Chapter 7
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Not long after Vance turned thirteen and Bev started dating a firefighter named Matt—with whom Vance still keeps in touch—Papaw died. The family... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...words about Papaw. After, many people came and thanked him for what he’d said, but Bev kept her distance. Later, Vance found Mamaw in the corner, staring silently at the floor.... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Soon after returning from Jackson, Vance walked onto Mamaw’s porch to see Bev standing in a towel in her front yard and berating Matt, calling him a “fucking... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
When Bev went into drug rehab, Vance was hesitant to turn to Mamaw because he didn’t want... (full context)
Chapter 8
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Vance finished eighth grade and Bev completed a full year of sobriety. In addition, Lindsay married and had a child. In... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Bev scheduled a time for J.D. to meet with her and her therapist, an experience Vance... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Instead of following Bev to Dayton, Vance decided to live with Don Bowman, his father. Don was happy to... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
One morning after Vance spent the night at Mamaw’s, Bev burst in and demanded that he give her his urine, because her employers were drug... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
After Bev demanded J.D.’s urine, Mamaw informed her daughter that Vance would live with her full-time from... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
...complicate matters, Mamaw had divided her will into three parts, one for each of her children—Bev’s share, however, was to be split evenly between J.D. and Lindsay. This perhaps contributed to... (full context)
Chapter 11
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...on his health. After finding out that her son was running a fever of 103º, Bev drove to Columbus and took him to the emergency room, where they discovered he had... (full context)
Chapter 14
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...sympathy begin?” Vance himself is conflicted regarding this question, but he’s willing to recognize that Bev is not a bad person—she loves him and Lindsay and did try (in her own... (full context)
Chapter 15
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Although Vance had promised himself to never help Bev again, he was unable to turn her away when she called him asking for his... (full context)
Conclusion
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...he’s trapped in a conference room inside a tree house with Lindsay and Mamaw. Suddenly, Bev enters and starts wreaking havoc on the room, upturning furniture and screaming. Mamaw and Lindsay... (full context)