Is family important in Hillbilly Elegy? How?

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caroline-harrison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Family is a major theme in Hillbilly Elegy. J.D. Vance’s memoir follows the lives of his family members as they struggle to come out ahead in Appalachia. Holding his own family up as an example of hillbilly culture, Vance examines the ways in which his family life both resembled and differed from that of his friends and neighbors in Appalachia. Like many other families in Appalachia, Vance’s family members fell on hard times when the coal and steel industries began to decline. His grandparents married young and, like many other families in the area, became parents at a young age. The early years of his grandparents’ marriage were filled with frequent fights and physical confrontations—mostly due to Papaw’s drinking problem. Vance’s mother was greatly affected by this turbulent home environment and was eventually forced to drop out of high school when she became pregnant. Like many other Appalachian families, Vance’s family struggled with poverty and drug abuse. When Vance’s mother became addicted to drugs, it seemed that Vance’s childhood would inevitably be just as chaotic and damaging as her own. Luckily, Mamaw and Papaw (now sober) intervened and took Vance in, breaking the cycle of dysfunction. Vance’s story stresses the effect of family on the individual: while a dysfunctional or toxic family can break someone down, a supportive and stable family can help someone rise to success.

asasha-santo | Student

Family is a major part of J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. Using his family to compare and contrast, Vance describes the many struggles facing the rural people of the United State's Appalachian region, which runs from southern New York to northern Mississippi. Many of Vance's family members suffer from the typical problems that plague Appalachian individuals, such as alcoholism and drug abuse, violence, family instability, and lack of access to quality education and opportunities. While Vance laments the troubles that his family and many others succumb to, he also praises his grandmother (Mamaw) and other members of his family for encouraging him to break the cycle of poverty.

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Hillbilly Elegy

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