BOOK DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Vance provides multiple reasons for writing his memoir and suggests that he wants people to understand the lives of poor people. When reading the book, do you see any tension between Vance’s telling of his own story and his cultural analysis of the “hillbilly” way of life.
  2. Poverty is a nationwide epidemic, but why does Vance feel the cycle of generational poverty is persistent in the Appalachian region and the cities nearby? Why is the American Dream particularly elusive for the residents of Jackson and Middletown?
  3. In the book’s introduction, Vance states that his success had little to do with his own intelligence or extraordinary ability, and much more to do with “a handful of loving people” who rescued him (p. 2). However, he also states throughout the book the element of personal responsibility. Where else do you see this tension between personal responsibility and the need for familial, governmental, or social support?
  4. Vance discusses the inner conflict he feels as someone who has moved from poverty into a higher social class. Do you think it’s possible to completely shift one’s identity from one class to another? What factors define social class, and how is class membership determined?
  5. Vance writes extensively about his traumatic childhood: his mother’s drug addiction and arrest, the constant revolving door of father figures, and Papaw’s alcoholism, among others. Which of these experiences appear to affect Vance most deeply, and why? How does the author cope with and eventually break free from such a difficult childhood?
  6. Hillbilly Elegy has been widely referenced to explain the results of the 2016 election. Do you agree with this assertion? Also, are there challenges in using one individual’s experience to explain larger social shifts?
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