Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Themes

J.D. Vance


Class and Social Mobility

Hillbilly Elegy is a book about class, wealth, and social mobility. It focuses on the people who live in Appalachia, a region populated by coal miners, steel workers, and blue-collar laborers firmly in the middle and lower middle classes. Vance's primary goal in this memoir is to explain how people in Appalachia have fallen on such hard times. Many of them struggle to find well-paying jobs, and studies show that Appalachians are the least optimistic group in the United States when it comes to their futures. This wasn't always the case. Appalachia used to be an upwardly mobile region where people could find good jobs in manufacturing, but, with the decline of the coal and steel industries, it has become harder for families like the Vances to make ends meet. This has resulted in a trend of downward mobility that has depressed the region and stripped many of its residents of opportunity.

Money and Economic Inequality
Money and economic inequality are some of the most important themes in Hillbilly Elegy. Most of Appalachia's socioeconomic problems stem in some way from money—the lack of it, the difficulty of earning it, the unhealthy attitudes toward it that keep hillbillies from saving money or managing to get ahead economically. Vance was born into a lower middle class household, to a drug-addicted mother who couldn't hold down her nursing job. His grandmother had to provide for him, using the welfare checks she received from the government. In Appalachia, it's common for families to be on welfare, and most of Vance's friends and family live in poverty, struggling to make ends meet. This has resulted in a trend of downward mobility and increasing economic inequality. Today, people in Appalachia are less optimistic about their economic futures than any other group, including African Americans and other minorities.

(The entire section is 841 words.)