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Published: 03-10-2019

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Themes of Self-Sabotage Within Hillbilly Elegy

In J.D Vance’s wildly-well-liked 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance recounts his childhood expertise of Appalachian poverty and tends to make a sociological argument against government handouts. Speaking from private exposure to Appalachian poverty, drug-abuse, and crime, Vance expresses his frustration with what he sees as a culture of indolence among Appalachia’s nonworking poor. Vance’s argument that unemployment advantages disincentivize difficult work and hinder upward social mobility is clearly conservative. But it is not constructed upon the common conservative “bad-seed” narrative, which demonizes the unemployed person and presents their faults as innate. Instead, he paints a compassionate and nuanced picture of hillbilly culture, thoughtfully analyzing the community’s collective tendency towards social decay and helplessness. Even though Vance calls for agency in his fellow hillbillies and tactfully presents himself as a success story of ambition, he also recognizes — by way of both analysis and anecdote — the specific inevitability of hardship that comes from a cultural tradition of poverty. Using pathos-driven tones of compassion that are frequently related with liberal rhetoric to make a conservative argument against handouts for the unemployed, Vance speaks in a language that is uniquely-intelligible to each republicans and democrats — a triumph for a hillbilly whose outsider-status always came from the way he spoke.

Vance uses private anecdotes about the self-sabotaging unemployed as proof against the liberal argument that lack of opportunities causes poverty, but builds these stories into bigger cultural evaluation, combatting the conservative view that poverty is an issue of person character. Vance very first introduces the theme of self-induced unemployment with a character, universally-named, “Bob.” Lazy, disrespectful, and chronically late to his great-paying job, only to react with outrage when he gets fired, “Bob” is shining example of what Vance sees as the problem with hillbilly culture: white working class guys desperate to “blame their difficulties on society or the government” (194). Vance compounds this original this original anecdote with a lot of comparable ones throughout, making use of these narratives to develop the reader’s frustration at these males, allowing him to properly assert that their “status in life is directly attributable to the choices [they’ve] produced,” not a result of lacking opportunity (194). Nevertheless, the novel in no way comes across as a individual vendetta against these individual males, due to the fact every time Vance presents the story of a lazy neighbor “content to live off the doll,” he quickly harkens back to the difficulties of the community at massive (139). Increasing up, Vance argues, in a culture of “almost spiritual…cynicism” it is simple really feel as although “you have been born with the dilemma hanging about your neck” (eight). This cynicism gives hillbillies the sense that they have no shot at upward mobility and their “cultural movement” to blame other individuals prevents them from “asking the tough queries about themselves” which might enable them to move up. In Vance’s chain of logic, this cynicism creates joblessness and joblessness creates poverty (194). The principal fallacy in this argument, of course, is the notion that to have a job necessarily signifies overcoming poverty. This certainly isn’t universally true, but Vance is not speaking about the universal. He’s talking about hillbillies and, by his personal account, Appalachia has a lot of “good-paying jobs..with steady raises” (like the one particular Bob lost) (6). White, straight, largely male, and with solid opportunities to climb out of poverty, these Hillbillies have all the cards in the book. The issue, Vance claims, is that they are not playing them.

As Vance builds his argument about Appalachia’s nearly-inescapable, cultural cycle of poverty and learned-helplessness, it is primary sticking point becomes, ironically, himself. If Vance managed to escape and better himself, then it should be the individual character flaws of the other hillbillies that prevented them from performing the very same. In order to evade this logical extension and continue his cultural evaluation, Vance highlights his personal luck, citing his “Mamaw” and the military as his saviors, delivering him “an atmosphere that forced him to ask the challenging questions about himself” (194). Vance states early on that “despite all the environmental pressures from [his] neighborhood and neighborhood, [he] got a various message at home…and that saved [him](60).” Encouraged by Mamaw to get a job “to find out the value of a dollar” and to concentrate on his grades, Vance received thoroughly un-hillbilly messages at house, creating his ultimate saving-grace not some extraordinary ability to escape hillbilly culture, but the fact that he was never totally immersed in it to commence with (138). Vance then utilizes his personal fortunes to talk about the misfortunes of other individuals, conceding that “not everybody can rely on the saving graces of a crazy hillbilly”(243). By no means given the tools like parental supervision of “peace and quiet at home” to succeed in college or taught the wherewithal to hold down a job, most hillbillies then fall victim to the “learned helplessness” that Mamaw and the marines instilled in Vance. Furthermore, by placing nucleus of each good results and failure firmly inside the home, Vance undermines the concept that prosperity hinges upon social applications (163). One particular of these “resilient children.. [Vance] prospered despite an unstable property simply because of the social assistance of a loving adult,” not simply because of governmental influence(149). Ironically, by crediting the “saving graces” in his own story, Vance highlights the lack of assistance inside hillbilly culture.

Compassionately recounting his poor upbringing in rural Appalachia, J.D Vance dismantles the liberal notion that unemployment is caused by a lack of opportunity whilst also rejecting the conservative sentiment that it is an problem of individual character. As an alternative, Vance blames hillbilly culture, his culture. Vance critically describes how hillbillies, the individuals he loves, sabotage their personal opportunities because they feel trapped in the black hole that is Appalachia and are inclined to blame their issues on anyone else: immigrants, the government, society at huge. In performing so, he tends to make an powerful case as to why government-based social applications are not the answer. One particular could argue, of course, that this is a shortcoming of Vance’s argument due to the fact, though it dismisses the current answer, it fails to provide a new a single. However, in Vance’s case, he need not provide a solution, since, by generating a single of the first dialogues about hillbilly culture and its resonance all through America, he is advancing the conversation, a triumph in and of itself.
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