- Vance, who wrote Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis (2016) and grew up in the Rust Belt, in a family still moored to Appalachian Kentucky, turned out to be just the.
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Culture Blaming Others problems government movements #20 “For kids like me, the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated–the switch flipped indefinitely. We are constantly ready to fight or flee, because there is constant exposure to the.
- I finally got around to reading Hillbilly Elegy. This is an interesting and eye-opening memoir. I’ve heard people compare Hillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance and White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History by Nancy Isenberg, liking one over the other, but I found each one of these books unique in its own right.
The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power. Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). Common Sense Media Family and kid-oriented reviews with recommendations of age appropriateness. Video reviews with voiceovers explain some of the content of movies and provide a brief overview of the movie for those who dislike reading. IMDb Parents Guide Content-related Overviews Provided by Users of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
J.D. Vance begins his memoir in a seemingly ironic way: by telling the reader how absurd it is that he’s written a book at all. “I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd,” he writes, confessing that he hasn’t achieved anything extraordinary in the grand scheme of things. He goes on, however, to explain that he is writing this book because, by graduating from Yale Law School, he has actually “achieved something quite extraordinary,” given that he grew up in poor, Rust Belt America, an Appalachian kid raised by grandparents who both dropped out of high school in lieu of his absent father and addict mother. In short, he wrote this book because he believes he’s uniquely positioned to account for the “psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has” on disenfranchised children in Appalachia. “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.”
According to surveys, Vance says, working-class whites are the most pessimistic group in America, with higher rates of pessimism than even Latino immigrants and black Americans, who face statistically higher barriers to economic success. For Vance, this is due to the rampant social isolation in the region, giving the example of churches that appeal to the emotions instead of offering social support to the community.
Vance admits that some believe this theory is like “putting the chicken before the egg”—namely, that social isolation and the resulting pessimism is a result, not a cause, of economic disenfranchisement. He counters with the example of a couple he met while working at a local tile distribution company, a man that Vance refers to as “Bob” and his pregnant girlfriend. The couple often missed work and routinely took long bathroom breaks indicating that they were playing hooky to escape the hard work. Vance cites this example as a microcosm of a larger trend: “a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”
Vance closes his introduction by clarifying that this book is not an academic study, but a family memoir. “Nearly every person you will read about is deeply flawed,” he writes, but he continues: “There are no villains in this story. There’s just a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way—both for their sake and, by the grace of God, for mine.”
As a child, Vance memorized his home address even as it changed frequently, but he remembers always distinguishing that address from his sense of home. “My home never changed: my great-grandmother’s house, in the holler, in Jackson, Kentucky.”
Jackson, as Vance describes it, was coal country and full of deeply selfless, respectful people. He remembers asking his grandmother, whom he refers to as “Mamaw” throughout the book, why people in Jackson stood everytime a hearse passed. “Because, honey,” she answered, “We’re hill people. And we respect our dead.”
For Vance, the practical difference between Jackson and this more permanent home in Middletown, Ohio was that in Jackson, he could be himself. There, he was recognized as the “grandson of the toughest woman anyone knew,” whereas in Middletown, he had all he could handle to navigate the challenges presented by his mother’s addiction and the rotating father figures that entered and exited his life.
Vance found more security in his various great-uncles, men he refers to as the “Blanton men.” Included in this bunch were Uncle Teaberry (the “oldest and meanest of the Blanton men), Uncle David (who grew marijuana in his backyard), Uncle Gary (Vance’s favorite), and Uncle Pet (who nearly beat a trucker to death but escaped jail time). As a child, Vance was obsessed with these Blanton men’s stories. “These men were the gatekeepers to the family’s oral tradition,” Vance writes, “and I was their best student.” Vance’s Mamaw was no less deadly than her brothers, he writes, having allegedly shot a man trying to steal her family’s cows with a shotgun, nearly killing him. “There is nothing lower than the poor stealing from the poor,” Vance remembers his Mamaw saying. “It’s hard enough as it is. We sure as hell don’t need to make it even harder on each other.”
Although the county in which Jackson, KY is located has been called “Bloody Breathitt,” violence isn’t the only epidemic that the city’s poverty has exacerbated. From widespread prescription drug addiction to “mountain dew mouth,” a nickname for the dental impact of drinking too much sugary soda, the people of Jackson tend to avoid their problems, according to Vance. “We tend to overstate and to understate, to glorify the good and ignore the bad in ourselves.” This is part of why Vance loved the Blanton men: they were full of both good and bad, and therefore full of contradictions.
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It is in these opening chapters that Vance introduces readers to a theme that will run throughout the book: home. Although Vance grew up primarily in Ohio, he distinguishes the place where he spent the most time as a child from the place that he called home: Jackson, Kentucky. Vance paints Jackson as the site of family stories, ghosts, memories, and in some ways as the locus of his family’s identity. Despite Jackson’s numerous flaws, Vance embraces its contradictions and illustrious history just as he does those of the Blanton men, and for the same reason: both signify home to him.
This sense of home and family origins is largely communicated through a series of anecdotes, both personal to Vance and inherited from his family’s oral storytelling tradition. For example, Vance tells the story of his irresponsible colleague, pseudonym “Bob,” to illustrate the widespread social decay present in the Appalachian region. Just pages later, he shares a story about his Mamaw shooting at a cattle thief in her youth, a legend amongst the Vance family that J.D. did not witness himself. This dependence on storytelling and anecdotes to illustrate points positions Vance as a writer working in a specifically Appalachian tradition, which by his own account of the “Blanton men” depends on listening closely to stories.
However, this strong storytelling tradition depends, even by Vance’s admission, on hyperbole. This is particularly evident during his account of his Uncle Pet, Uncle Teaberry, and Mamaw, who were each guilty of violence at one time or another. For example, Vance’s story about Mamaw nearly killing a man could be, as he writes, a mere fable passed down and exaggerated by their family. Vance admits his family’s penchant for hyperbole to illustrate a point: that in Appalachia, people tend to ignore their own bad qualities in favor of exaggerating their good ones.
Many of Vance’s characters are living embodiments of this very exaggeration, larger than life and full of contradictions. Vance tells the story of Uncle Teaberry, for example, overhearing a man talking about Mamaw in a sexual way and then forcing the man to consume Mamaw’s underwear. Vance admits that most of the stories he’s heard about his family are “classic good-versus-evil stories” painting his relatives as heroes, but in drawing attention to their hyperbolic and biased tendencies, Vance actually points to the importance of legends and myths in the collective identity of Appalachian people.
Part of this Appalachian mythology centers on a recurring theme in Vance’s book: frontier justice and a moral code. “My people were extreme,” he writes, “but extreme in the service of something...The Blanton men, like the tomboy Blanton sister whom I called Mamaw, were enforcers of hillbilly justice, and to me, that was the very best kind.” Across these varied stories of violence and revenge, a recurring theme is the aggressor's underlying sense of justice and honor. Crucially, this justice exists outside of the law, a case in point being Vance’s story of his Uncle Pet nearly killing a man with an electric saw; the victim, who had insulted Uncle Pet’s mother, never reported the crime to the police, as he “knew what it meant to insult a man’s mother.”