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Hillbilly Elegy Reflection Essay

Vance’s Position and Personal Opinion

After reading Hillbilly Elegy, the author leaves the reader with the question of whether he agrees or disagrees with the position of learned helplessness with the hillbilly culture. According to Conley (2019), learned helplessness is “a sense that we are unable to stave off sources of our pain, that we have no control of our own well-being” (p. 212). Vance gives both examples of the prevalence of closeness and isolationism in hillbilly society and the partial success of his Mamaw and Papaw families in overcoming the cultural barrier (Vance, 2016). However, upbringing in an environment of cyclical family instability forever leaves its mark, so I agree with the author. Nevertheless, having lived a sufficient amount of time both in Kentucky and Middletown, Vance was able to identify the cultural causes of learned helplessness and change his situation (Vance, 2016). Mamaw’s advice that he is capable of everything and should not see the world from a fatalistic perspective also played a role (Vance, 2016). As it can be seen, external adaptation is possible by achieving economic stability, and internal one by focusing on the well-being and prosperity of posterity.

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Good Side of Hillbilly Culture

Like most other cultures, the hillbilly community also has positive qualities. First of all, this is a high degree of self-esteem and adherence to the cultural norms of their society (Vance, 2016). Nevertheless, the most outstanding quality is family loyalty and significant family mutual assistance (Vance, 2016). However, each of these qualities is one side of the coin of those shortcomings because of which the hillbilly culture is in crisis.

Hillbilly Cultural Crisis

The hillbilly culture crisis is a complex of internal and external factors. The first aspect is hillbilly justice, which is a combination of prejudices and moral qualities that give rise to cyclical family instability (Vance, 2016). This is what prevents any adaptation or cultural renaissance. It is also worth mentioning external influences, namely poverty, lack of work, and drug abuse (Vance, 2016). Vance believes that the key ways to solve the crisis are the overcoming of psychological isolationism, the development of open-minded thinking, and a tolerant attitude towards other American communities.


  1. Conley, D. (2019). You may ask yourself (6th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Vance, J.D. (2016). HillbillyElegyy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis. New York, NY: Harper.

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