Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: Quotes and Thoughts

I recently finished Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance after my mom suggested I read it because it’s an excellent book and it was the book she was reading in two of her book clubs. This was a great suggestion, not only because I was able to learn about another culture of which I had no knowledge of (which is something I like to do), but I was able to put my life into perspective like J.D. did, despite having some pretty horrible circumstances. Vance discusses how despite a difficult upbringing, adolescence, and even adult life; he sees the silver lining in it all. He says you have to work hard despite your hand, and that you can achieve a lot even when you think you can’t (Vance 2016). Definitely worth the read (and the wait for a library copy).

One person in his life that he depended upon and that raised him was his Mamaw (grandmother, term used in Kentucky amongst hillbillies) (Vance 2016). She’s an interesting character in this book, and the novel had so many great quotes from and inspired by her.

“God never left our side. He celebrated with us when times were good and comforted us when they weren’t” (86).

“To coast through life was to squander my God-given talent, so I had to work hard […] I should never despair, for God had a plan” (86).

“God helps those who help themselves” (87).

Mamaw was a firm believer of God, and that’s one reason why she’s one of my favorite characters in this book. God never leaves us alone, He’s there with us in good times and bad, He comforts us, and He always has a plan for each one of us–even if it’s not the plan we thought up for ourselves. We also can’t just go through life without putting some effort in-we have to give life our all to make it worthwhile, and trust in God’s plan. He only helps us if we take care of ourselves. Remember that God is always in your circle.

I also love this rule of Mamaw’s: remember to always work hard and help your folks (especially your parents and grandparents!).

“There were three rules in her house: get good grades, get a job, and ‘get off your a** and help me'” (133).

One of Vances’ quotes talks about being grateful for what you have, even when life gets tough. There is so much good in life to celebrate, it’s bad to harp on the negative-even when that negative is shadowing over you.

“[I] began to appreciate how lucky I was: born in the greatest country on earth, every modern convenience at my fingertips, supported by two loving hillbillies, and part of a family that, for all its quirks, loved me unconditionally” (173).

An interesting fact about J.D. Vance was that he served in the Marine Corps for four years. Two quotes regarding his service and what he learned from it can be applicable to anyone, as they are life lessons and not simply lessons that only relate to the Marine Corps.

“The Marine Corps demanded that I think strategically about these decisions, and then it taught me how to do so. Just as important, the Marines changed the expectations that I had for myself. In boot camp, the thought of climbing the thirty-foot rope inspired terror; by the end of my first year, I could climb the rope using only one arm” (175).

“I’m not saying ability doesn’t matter. It certainly helps. But there’s something powerful about realizing that you’ve undersold yourself-that somehow your mind confused lack of effort for inability” (177).

Our life turns out according to our choices, so be wise and make good decisions (Vance 2016).

“His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions” (193).

“How much of our lives, good and bad, should we credit to our personal decisions, and how much is just the inheritance of our cultures, our families, and our parents who have failed their children?” (231)

J.D. Vance, after the Marine Corps, went on to become a Yale graduate and successful lawyer. He accredits his success to pushing through life and having a strong support system (Vance 2016). He quoted Sonya Sotomayor, who spoke at his Yale Law commencement, in his book:

“[she] advised it was okay to be unsure about what we wanted to do with ourselves” (234).

As a graduate student, I know I’ll be finding a career in speech-language pathology. However, Sotomayor’s quote still applies to me-I think I want to work with children, but my education could sway me another direction. Not being sure about what we want to do with ourselves is applicable to everyone in some way. However, if hillbilly/lawyer J.D. Vance can strive towards his goals and figure out what he wants to do with himself despite his difficult upbringing, then you can too on your happy and healthy adventure. 🙂 ❤





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