Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance Character Analysis

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 and where his hillbilly grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, had deep familial and cultural roots. As a child, Vance witnessed his mother’s addiction to drugs and her eventful love life, which brought multiple father figures into his life for short periods at a time. Many of these romantic partners tangled with his argumentative mother, laying waste to the household and disrupting Vance’s domestic life, ultimately causing his academic success to suffer. Luckily, he found support in Mamaw and Papaw, who lent him a sense of stability along with his older sister, Lindsay. Vance finally decided to live with Mamaw permanently in the final years of his high school education in order to escape his mother’s toxic influence. As a result, his grades improved and he was accepted to Ohio State University, though he postponed attending in order to join the Marines, where he learned the importance of discipline and personal agency. After serving in Iraq, he finally went to college and eventually attended Yale Law School, where he met his future wife, Usha. Having experienced both the life of a hillbilly and the life of a successful lawyer, Vance has a unique perspective on the notion of upward mobility. He is simultaneously proud of his hillbilly values—which champion loyalty and honor above all else—and critical of his community’s shortcomings. Throughout the memoir, he demonstrates his ability to balance these two perspectives in order to craft a well-considered account of working-class Appalachia.

J.D. Vance Quotes in Hillbilly Elegy

The Hillbilly Elegy quotes below are all either spoken by J.D. Vance or refer to J.D. 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.
Introduction Quotes

Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some sort of genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bullshit. Whatever talents I have, I almost squandered until a handful of loving people rescued me.

That is the real story of my life, and that is why I wrote this book. I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the life of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels. And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Hillbilly Elegy quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

This distinctive embrace of cultural tradition comes along with many good traits—an intense sense of loyalty, a fierce dedication to family and country—but also many bad ones. We do not like outsiders or people who are different from us, whether the difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk. To understand me, you must understand that I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 1 Quotes

Despite their virtues, or perhaps because of them, the Blanton men were full of vice. A few of them left a trail of neglected children, cheated wives, or both. And I didn’t even know them that well: I saw them only at large family reunions or during the holidays. Still, I loved and worshipped them.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Uncle Pet, Uncle Teaberry
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 2 Quotes

For starters, a remarkable stigma attached to people who left the hills of Kentucky for a better life. Hillbillies have a phrase—“too big for your britches”—to describe those who think they’re better than the stock they came from. For a long time after my grandparents came to Ohio, they heard exactly that phrase from people back home. The sense that they had abandoned their families was acute, and it was expected that, whatever their responsibilities, they would return home regularly. This pattern was common among Appalachian migrants: More than nine in ten would make visits “home” during the course of their lives, and more than one in ten visited about once a month. My grandparents returned to Jackson often, sometimes on consecutive weekends, despite the fact that the trip in the 1950s required about twenty hours of driving. Economic mobility came with a lot of pressures, and it came with a lot of new responsibilities.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw, Papaw
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 4 Quotes

Even at Roosevelt Elementary—where, thanks to Middletown geography, most people’s parents lacked a college education—no one wanted to have a blue-collar career and its promise of a respectable middle-class life. We never considered that we’d be lucky to land a job at Armco; we took Armco for granted.

Many kids seem to feel that way today. A few years ago I spoke with […] a Middletown High School teacher who works with at-risk youth. “A lot of students just don’t understand what’s out there,” she told me, shaking her head. “You have the kids who plan on being baseball players but don’t even play on the high school team because the coach is mean to them. Then you have those who aren’t doing very well in school, and when you try to talk to them about what they’re going to do, they talk about AK. “Oh, I can get a job at AK. My uncle works there.’ It’s like they can’t make the connection between the situation in this town and the lack of jobs at AK.”

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Related Symbols: Armco
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

One of our neighbors was a lifetime welfare recipient, but in between asking my grandmother to borrow her car or offering to trade food stamps for cash at a premium, she’d blather on about the importance of industriousness. “So many people abuse the system, it’s impossible for the hardworking people to get the help they need,” she’d say. This was the construct she’d built in her head: Most of the beneficiaries of the system were extravagant moochers, but she—despite never having worked in her life—was an obvious exception.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 6 Quotes

The fallen world described by the Christian religion matched the world I saw around me: one where a happy car ride could quickly turn to misery, one where individual misconduct rippled across a family’s and a community’s life. When I asked Mamaw if God loved us, I asked her to reassure me that this religion of ours could still make sense of the world we lived in. I needed reassurance of some deeper justice, some cadence or rhythm that lurked beneath the heartache and chaos.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Despite its reputation, Appalachia—especially northern Alabama and Georgia to southern Ohio—has far lower church attendance than the Midwest, parts of the Mountain West, and much of the space between Michigan and Montana. Oddly enough, we think we attend church more than we actually do. In a recent Gallup poll, Southerners and Midwesterners reported the highest rates of church attendance in the country. Yet actual church attendance is much lower in the South.

This pattern of deception has to do with cultural pressure. In southwestern Ohio, where I was born, both the Cincinnati and Dayton metropolitan regions have very low rates of church attendance, about the same as ultra-liberal San Francisco. No one I know in San Francisco would feel ashamed to admit that they don’t go to church. (In fact, some of them might feel ashamed to admit that they do.) Ohio is the polar opposite. Even as a kid, I’d lie when people asked if I attended church regularly. According to Gallup, I wasn’t alone in feeling that pressure.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 8 Quotes

I remember watching an episode of The West Wing about education in America, which the majority of people rightfully believe is the key to opportunity. In it, the fictional president debates whether he should push school vouchers (giving public money to schoolchildren so that they escape failing public schools) or instead focus exclusively on fixing those same failing schools. That debate is important, of course—for a long time, much of my failing school district qualified for vouchers—but it was striking that in an entire discussion about why poor kids struggled in school, the emphasis rested entirely on public institutions. As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.”

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 9 Quotes

As my job taught me a little more about America’s class divide, it also imbued me with a bit of resentment, directed toward both the wealthy and my own kind. The owners of Dillman’s were old-fashioned, so they allowed people with good credit to run grocery tabs, some of which surpassed a thousand dollars. I knew that if any of my relatives walked in and ran up a bill of over a thousand dollars, they’d be asked to pay immediately. I hated the feeling that my boss counted my people as less trustworthy than those who took their groceries home in a Cadillac. But I got over it: One day, I told myself, I’ll have my own damned tab.

I also learned how people gamed the welfare system. They’d buy two dozen-packs of soda with food stamps and then sell them at a discount for cash. They’d ring up their orders separately, buying food with food stamps, and beer, wine, and cigarettes with cash. They’d regularly go through the checkout line speaking on their cell phones. I could never understand why our lives felt like a struggle while those living off of government largesse enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

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:
Quotes explanation short mobile

We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs. Sometimes we’ll get a job, but it won’t last. We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minute restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 10 Quotes

Every time the drill instructor screamed at me and I stood proudly; every time I thought I’d fall behind during a run and kept up; every time I learned to do something I thought impossible, like climb the rope, I came a little closer to believing in myself. Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life. From Middletown’s world of small expectations to the constant chaos of our home, life had taught me that I had no control. Mamaw and Papaw had saved me from succumbing entirely to that notion, and the Marine Corps broke new ground. If I had learned helplessness at home, the Marines were teaching learned willfulness.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw, Papaw
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

For all my grandma’s efforts, for all of her “You can do anything; don’t be like those fuckers who think the deck is stacked against them” diatribes, the message had only partially set in before I enlisted. Surrounding me was another message: that I and the people like me weren’t good enough; that the reason Middletown produced zero Ivy League graduates was some genetic or character defect. I couldn’t possible see how destructive that mentality was until I escaped it. […]

I’m not saying ability doesn’t matter. It certainly helps. But there’s something powerful about realizing that you’ve undersold yourself—that somehow your mind confused lack of effort for inability. This is why, whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.”

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker), Mamaw
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 11 Quotes

One Friday morning I dropped off my rent check, knowing that if I waited another day, the fifty-dollar late fee would kick in. I didn’t have enough money to cover the check, but I’d get paid that day and would be able to deposit the money after work. However, after a long day at the senate, I forgot to grab my paycheck before I left. By the time I realized the mistake, I was already home, and the Statehouse staff had left for the weekend. On that day, a three-day payday loan, with a few dollars of interest, enabled me to avoid a significant overdraft fee. The legislators debating the merits of payday lending didn’t mention situations like that. The lesson? Powerful people sometimes do things to help people like me without really understanding people like me.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The Great Recession, and the not-great recovery that followed, had hastened Middletown’s downward trajectory. But there was something almost spiritual about the cynicism of the community at large, something that went much deeper than a short-term recession.

As a culture, we had no heroes. Certainly not any politician—Barack Obama was then the most admired man in America (and likely still is), but even when the country was enraptured by his rise, most Middletonians viewed him suspiciously. George W. Bush had few fans in 2008. Many loved Bill Clinton, but many more saw him as the symbol of American moral decay, and Ronald Reagan was long dead. We loved the military but had no George S. Patton figure in the modern army. I doubt my neighbors could even name a high-ranking military officer. The space program, long a source of pride, had gone the way of the dodo, and with it the celebrity astronauts. Nothing united us with the core fabric of American society. We felt trapped in two seemingly unwinnable wars, in which a disproportionate share of the fighters came from our neighborhood, and in an economy that failed to deliver the most basic promise of the American Dream—a steady wage.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

We can’t trust the evening news. We can’t trust our politicians. Our universities, the gateway to a better life, are rigged against us. We can’t get jobs. You can’t believe these things and participate meaningfully in society. Social psychologists have shown that group belief is a powerful motivator in performance. When groups perceive that it’s in their interest to work hard and achieve things, members of that group outperform other similarly situated individuals. It’s obvious why: If you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it’s hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all?

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 12 Quotes

We do know that working-class Americans aren’t just less likely to climb the economic ladder, they’re also more likely to fall off even after they’ve reached the top. I imagine that the discomfort they feel at leaving behind much of their identity plays at least a small role in this problem. One way our upper class can promote upward mobility, then, is not only by pushing wise public policies but by opening their hearts and minds to the newcomers who don’t quite belong.

Though we sing the praises of social mobility, it has its downsides. The term necessarily implies a sort of movement—to a theoretically better life, yes, but also away from something. And you can’t always control the parts of your old life from which you drift.

Related Characters: J.D. Vance (speaker)
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Hillbilly Elegy LitChart as a printable PDF.
Hillbilly elegy.pdf.medium

J.D. Vance Character Timeline in Hillbilly Elegy

The timeline below shows where the character J.D. Vance appears in Hillbilly Elegy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
J.D. Vance begins his memoir by confessing that he still finds it absurd that anybody would... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Vance briefly outlines the demographic history of America’s white working class. He makes clear that racial... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...run from Alabama to parts of New York state. Although this region is quite large, Vance remarks that “the culture of Greater Appalachia is remarkably cohesive.” Unfortunately, though, the region is... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
The summer before he attended Yale Law School, Vance took a job at a local floor tile distributing company, where he hauled heavy materials... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
...were fired from or quit their jobs at the tile factory during the short time Vance worked there. Vance believes stories like these indicate that something troubling is going on in... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Vance reiterates that Hillbilly Elegy is a book that draws upon his own experiences. He isn’t... (full context)
Chapter 1
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Although Vance’s mother moved constantly for reasons he could never understand as a child, he always memorized... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
In the 1940s, Mamaw moved with her husband—Vance’s Papaw—from Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, leaving behind the Blantons, her large family, which was well-respected... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Vance’s great-uncles used to tell him stories when he visited Jackson. One story, for example, spoke... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
...thief with the rifle aimed at his head. Uncle Pet stopped his younger sister, but Vance is convinced she would have pulled the trigger because “she loathed disloyalty, and there was... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance explains that Appalachia has taken a turn for the worse in terms of poverty and... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance writes that Mamaw and Papaw’s presence in his life was the best thing to ever... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance notes that Armco’s promise of a better life was, for the most part, true. He... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...different—and rather disagreeable—lifestyle, and they were unhappy to see their town flooded by such newcomers. Vance references a book called Appalachian Odyssey, which points out that “the disturbing aspect of hillbillies... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
...started to get used to their new life. In 1951 they had their first boy, Vance’s Uncle Jimmy. For a while they achieved something like domestic bliss, but things didn’t always... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
...of the Democratic party, which they believed represented “the working people.” Mamaw used to tell Vance, “Never be like these fucking losers who think the deck is stacked against them. You... (full context)
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... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...a kind husband. As for Jimmy, he acquired a sales job and was the first Vance to have a “career.” Unfortunately, Bev succumbed to the statistical odds that come along with... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
...spite of their fraught history, Mamaw and Papaw reconciled, and Papaw stopped drinking in 1983. Vance believes that it was around this time that they set to work making reparations for... (full context)
Chapter 4
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance explains that Middletown’s inhabitants used to view the town as a highly respectable community. These... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
...motorcycle company that essentially saved the town’s largest employer from having to close its doors. Vance admits that he and his friends were unaware of this economic strife when they were... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance points out a contradiction in the idea that working-class Middletown kids should aspire toward something... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
When Vance was in first grade, his teacher would choose a number and each student would deliver... (full context)
Chapter 5
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance learned when he was in kindergarten that his father, Don Bowman, was giving him up... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
As Vance progressed through school, he learned that the hillbilly preoccupation with loyalty and honor often led... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
When Vance was nine, his home life deteriorated because his mother and Bob decided to move away... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
One day, Vance came home and saw Mamaw’s car in the driveway. He learned that she had come... (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... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Bev was released on bond, and Vance was asked to speak at her hearing. Understanding that her fate—and his ability to see... (full context)
Chapter 6
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Vance takes a moment to sing the praises of his sister Lindsay, who served as his... (full context)
Religion and Education Theme Icon
When they got home from the modeling audition, Vance spoke to Mamaw in private, asking, “Mamaw, does God love us?” To his surprise, his... (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 that Bob Hamel had no intention of keeping up with... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance started visiting Don, impressed by the stable life he led. It became clear to him... (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... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
...Middletown, the other in Jackson. The audience was free to speak during the service, and Vance stood up and said a few words about Papaw. After, many people came and thanked... (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... (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 to burden her now that... (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... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Bev scheduled a time for J.D. to meet with her and her therapist, an experience Vance writes “felt like an ambush.”... (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 have him, and... (full context)
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... (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
...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... (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... (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 that point... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance explains that Mamaw’s neighbor registered her house for Section 8, a government program “that offers... (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
As a high school student earning his own money, Vance was interested in the factors that drove the squalor he saw in his community. He... (full context)
Chapter 10
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance’s time in Mamaw’s house markedly improved his academic performance—so much so that he was accepted... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance explains that boot camp taught him to believe in himself. As his instructors berated him,... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
In 2005, Vance learned that his unit would be going to Iraq in the late Spring. Mamaw was... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
...coma, the family decided to take her off life support. Like everybody in the family, Vance was distraught, but he put on a strong face because he sensed that the family... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Vance explains that the last two years he spent in the Marines was rather uneventful, other... (full context)
Chapter 11
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
In 2007, after he finished the Marines, Vance attended Ohio State University. Although he was older than the majority of students, he found... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
When he returned to Columbus, Vance took a third job as an SAT tutor. It paid so well that he quit... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance moved back to Middletown to prepare for law school, to which he had already been... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance explains that many white conservative voters believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. He says that... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Vance outlines the idea that the “anger and cynicism of working-class whites” has to do with... (full context)
Chapter 12
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
When Vance arrived at Yale, he was surprised to see posters advertising an event with Tony Blair,... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
On one of his first visits home, Vance saw a woman at the gas station wearing a Yale t-shirt. He asked her if... (full context)
Chapter 13
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
While at Yale, Vance fell in love with one of his fellow law students, Usha. He describes her as... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
In addition to Usha’s advice, Vance experienced more tangible forms of social capital, too. For example, every August, Yale Law School... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
One of Vance’s professors, Amy Chua, helped him make decisions about his career and personal life. At one... (full context)
Chapter 14
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
In Vance’s second year of law school, things were going well, but his relationship with Usha was... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance writes that he still struggles with the impulse to fight and the tendency to approach... (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... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Vance turns his attention to a question he often receives: is there anything that might “solve”... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
...doesn’t think policy change is the best way to address the problems of the working-class, Vance mentions that there are some small-scale measures that the government can take, like building policies... (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
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of working-class upward mobility, Vance asserts, is not a lack of policy but rather an unawareness of the community’s prevailing... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
One day Vance was driving with Usha when another car cut them off. At the next stoplight, Vance... (full context)
Conclusion
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Vance identifies himself as a “cultural emigrant” who occupies a unique position, one that allows him... (full context)
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
Recently, Vance took a teenager named Brian out to lunch at a fast-food restaurant. Brian reminds Vance... (full context)
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Vance closes by describing a recurring dream he’s had since childhood, wherein he’s trapped in a... (full context)