Hillbilly Elegy


J. D. Vance

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Themes and Colors
The Hillbilly Identity Theme Icon
Upward Mobility and Personal Agency Theme Icon
Politics and the Economy Theme Icon
Religion and Education Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hillbilly Elegy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Hillbilly Identity

Having grown up in a working class Ohio town primarily populated by emigrants from the hills of Eastern Kentucky, J.D. Vance makes an effort in Hillbilly Elegy to clarify what it means to be a “hillbilly.” Including himself in this demographic, he explains that hillbillies are white Americans of Scots-Irish descent for whom “poverty is the family tradition.” For generations, they have been uneducated laborers fiercely dedicated to their own communities and traditions and remarkably…

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Upward Mobility and Personal Agency

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance outlines his rise from the poor working class to the more affluent middle class. In doing so, he considers the notion of upward mobility, portraying it as always possible yet deeply complicated. He emphasizes that a hillbilly’s economic success greatly depends upon his or her sense of personal agency. Although all the resources that lead to upward mobility may not be available to a working class kid living in…

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Politics and the Economy

Vance considers politics and the economy in Hillbilly Elegy for two reasons. The first is to accurately depict the circumstances that lead to Appalachian poverty and hillbilly disenfranchisement. The second is to examine what can be done to address these difficulties. Regarding the latter, Vance believes that what the hillbilly community faces is primarily a social problem rather than a governmental problem, and he believes the dilemma ought to be handled as such. Policy reform…

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Religion and Education

Hillbilly Elegy is first and foremost a memoir about J.D. Vance’s life growing up in working-class Ohio with hillbilly grandparents. This means that his primary aim is to openly examine the path he took to rise out of poverty, a path that took him to college, the Marines, and to Yale Law School. It also means that the book’s key purpose is not to provide answers regarding how to help the poor. However, Vance…

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