Hillbilly Elegy Summary – August 2022

Author: J. D. Vance

Short Summary
Hillbilly Elegy (2016) is an account of the Appalachian lifestyle from the perspective of a formerly poor man raised in Middletown, Ohio. Hillbilly Elegy book summary gives a description of how the American Dream looks different for everyone growing up in the same country.
hillbilly elegy summary
Source: amazon.com

Detailed Summary

The author explains the difference in the culture and work ethic of Hillbilly through the story of his childhood and the lifestyle of his grandmother and grandfather whom J. D. Vance called Mamaw and Papaw. Throughout his life, he had learned valuable lessons from his grandparents, his sister Lindsay and his wife Usha. Papaw and Mamaw, his grandparents raised him because his mother was always getting divorced or broken up and moving on to the next guy. His grandmother took him in which made his grades turn good. Vance describes his grandparents as fierce and independent. His grandfather had a steady job at a steel mill and his grandmother also worked very hard.

He gives all the credit to them for teaching him how to be successful. On the other hand, he criticizes the modern generation of Middletown. They think that success is a product and talent. Hard work does not contribute to success. They have made failure very common and acceptable. J. D. Vance, in Hillbilly Elegy, describes this as a most harmful aspect of hillbilly culture.

Hillbilly Elegy Summary Key Points

So, Who Are the Hillbillies?

J. D. Vance and his grandparents identified as Hillbillies. Hillbillies refer to the ‘hill people or the people of mountains. (Specifically residents of the Appalachian mountains). Some people like the author take pride in calling themselves Hillbillies while others think of it as a derogatory term. The author’s grandparents left Kentucky so that they can search for work opportunities in Ohio, precisely in Middletown. 

They worked in a steel factory and earned a decent living but according to the author the situation has worsened over the years. The towns have gotten poorer. He tells his readers that he relates to this poverty. That his law degrees and profession have not made him any extraordinary. He relates to their condition of struggling in poverty.

Poverty was not the Only Problem for a Young Child Raised in the Poor City of Ohio

J. D. Vance describes the book as a memoir of culture and ‘family’ in crisis and it is. To the outsider, these people might have appeared as strong, happy, and a group of adults having each other’s back. But in reality, the house was full of domestic violence and drinking problems. Although papa had a stable job and worked hard, he had a severe drinking issue which made him angry and irritated.

J. D. Vance’s mother Bev, grew up watching all this and was not completely happy too. Their family was always on the verge of collapse. The author criticizes this behavior in the book by saying that although Americans dream big for their children, they never provide them with the peace and quiet that is actually needed by an individual to succeed. Most children grow up watching alcoholism, swapping parents, and domestic abuse.

American Dream and J. D. Vance

As explained in the above Hillbilly Elegy summary key point,  J.D. Vance had a rough start to his life. His grades were poor. As he grew up, his grandparents separated but harbored a good relationship. His mother was swapping boyfriends and then often institutionalized. That is why his grandmother mamaw, decided to take him in.

The house was happier than before and the author had found someone who cared for his life and career. He attributes a great deal of his success to his grandparents. According to him, they belonged to a generation that believed in hard work. His grandmother had three rules for him: get good grades, get a job and help her out. J.D. says he learned a lot from each of these rules. He aced the SATS, went to the military, and later to college. He learned that leadership means hard work and having a sense of direction.

Throughout His Life, J. D. Vance Learned Many Valuable Lessons

The author’s life teaches us many lessons. He almost gave up on himself but his perseverance and the lifestyle of his mamaw and papaw pushed him through. During his educational career, he learned the value of socializing and knowing powerful people. He first-handly saw domestic abuse, mental illness, and alcoholism but decided to turn his life for the better. The city he was born in was laced with poverty and mediocre life but nothing stopped him from curating a successful and inspirational life.

J. D. Vance ended up working in the military, getting a degree from Yale, and marrying a wonderful woman Usha. This shows us that no matter what your past is, you can overcome the odds and live a good life.

Hillbilly Elegy Quotes

“What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasing: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.” –J.D. Vance

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.” –J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy Summary Review

 J. D. Vance brilliantly portrays the struggles of poor people in a country founded on the dream of becoming richer and prosperous. People either become consumerist, isolated, angry, and distrustful or they turn themselves into faithful, self-reliant, and hard-working humans. In Hillbilly Elegy summary, you will find a family’s history combined with aspects of domestic violence, the American dream, and Appalachian poverty.

To Whom I Would Recommend Hillbilly Elegy Summary

  • To anyone who wants to learn about American Dream from a different perspective.
  • To the twenty-two-year-old who is fond of reading memoirs coupled with history.
  • And to anyone who has nearly given up on themselves and needs encouragement.

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