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A Reflection on The Book 'Hillbilly Elegy'

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J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy shows the struggles that someone living in Appalachia faces on a daily basis in some way. These struggles could be ones that you personally are facing, or they could be struggles that someone you know or love is facing. Some of the struggles talked about in this book might even sound foreign to people that do not live in Appalachia. The author’s goal or reason for writing Hillbilly Elegy was to tell of the hardships that the average Appalachian resident goes through. In many regions in the country and the world for that matter, people don’t have to worry about growing up with a greater chance for poverty, a greater chance for themselves or a family member to be addicted to drugs, or a greater chance of having a poor education. All of these factors play into everyday life in Appalachia. Whether it be getting a job, getting into college, wanting a specific house or car, these factors that come with living in Appalachia play a role in many aspects of life. I believe the end goal for this book was to give a better insight on the people of Appalachia and how they are just like everyone else: they want and are fighting for their chance to make something of themselves.

When giving examples of life in Appalachia, the author used many different sources. He used his own personal life, he used statistics at one point when it came to church attendance in Appalachia versus the Midwest, and at times the resource he used was his own inference about how he perceives people outside of Appalachia feel about Appalachians and the territory itself. The sources that the author used were spot on, but sometimes they seemed a little too biased. For example, at times he would mention his terrible home life with his mom and how he eventually got out of that and moved on to bigger and better things like the military and college. While this is a good anecdote, it doesn’t apply to most people in his situation. A lot of people who grow up in a bad home lead a bad life themselves. If they grew up in an abusive home, they often grow up being abusers. If they grow up in a home with a drug abuser, they often grow up abusing drugs as they get older. The whole idea of a hillbilly life is complicated even though it may seem simple to people who don’t have to experience it.

To say there is little bias in Hillbilly Elegy would be an understatement. I feel as if most of the book is biased. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is a negative thing though. Vance’s goal was to write about his life growing up in Appalachia. His whole purpose for writing the book was to touch on the idea that no matter your statistical disadvantage, you can achieve the unthinkable. While I wholeheartedly believe in this notion of “determination will get you anywhere” kind of idea, I also realize that there are certain people in certain situations who literally cannot get out of their negative situation. For example, a citizen in North Korea grows up under a dictator. No matter how bad their life gets, they can only wait until the government does something about it. They don’t have the freedom to go to a good college and get an education that will help them better themselves. Not to say the education system is broken, but Vance came out of Appalachia and went to Ohio State and then to Yale. Growing up in North Korea, you can’t do that. A form of bias (and what seemed to be a bit of cockiness) that I found interesting was when Vance writes “Why has no one else from my high school made it to the Ivy League” (Vance, 2016, p. 207). This feels like an arrogant statement and very biased for the fact that many people can say that nobody from their high school went to an Ivy League school. The Ivy League is not easily attainable for any social class. Yes, the upper class have access to better education, but they still have to prove their academic abilities like the rest of the candidates.

The text does do some really great things however. I was born here in West Virginia and Vance talks about a lot of things that I have seen in my own lifetime. He speaks of his home life when he was growing up. His mamaw and papaw fought (sometimes physical), his mom was a drug addict, he never had an official father figure, and he had to figure things out on his own at times. These are scenarios that make for a depressing story, but these things happen every day. Not only in Appalachia, but in the whole world. The problems we face here in Appalachia are problems around the world. Vance is good about showing how just because he grew up in a bad situation, he did not let any of that hold him back in the course of his life up to now. Something that this book is good for is motivation. Vance’s story motivates you to get out of your bad situation and make something of yourself. One instance of this is on page 197 when he speaks of applying to colleges and he didn’t apply to Yale, Harvard, or Stanford at first. He then talks with his friend Darrel who has a friend from law school that busses tables. This is when Vance decides to “give Yale and Harvard a try”.

The theme of upward mobility in this text is what gives the most hope. In the introduction, Vance explains that he graduated from Yale law, left the woes of poverty, and made himself successful in the end (LitCharts, 2019). He also talks about how people in Appalachia have low social mobility. The poverty rate is high, the addiction rate is high, and there is a misconception that people in Appalachia work harder than people from outside of the region. Even through all of these negatives, Vance found a way to get away from his mom and live with Mamaw and focus on school. He then enlisted in the military. After that he went to Ohio State and then on to Yale. All of these combining factors led to him reaching upward mobility and it helped him become a stronger person. Sociology says that you are a product of your environment. I believe this to be true. Yes, the environment Vance grew up in was a negative one, but his environment is also what shaped him to be the man he is today. His environment taught him that no matter how hard life gets, you always have a chance if you put in the work.

In conclusion, Hillbilly Elegy is a book that speaks on the woes of growing up in Appalachia. There are a lot of negatives in the book about Appalachia as a whole, but Vance brings things to a postive when he talks about all of the little things that made him who he is today. Vance’s story is just one instance of the possibility of upward mobility. If you can see it, you can achieve it and memoirs like this show millions that you can achieve anything you set out to achieve as long as you’re willing to put in the right amount of effort.

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A Reflection On The Book ‘Hillbilly Elegy’. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from
“A Reflection On The Book ‘Hillbilly Elegy’.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
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