Hillbilly Elegy: The Theme of Hillbilly Identity and Poverty in the Appalachia Region

Appalachia is known for uncommon terrains, rural people, historical coal mining and strong community within the culture. All of these have led most to recognize the region as highly secluded. This seclusion has contributed to the idea that the majority of residents are hillbillies which is an unfavorable image that is a central piece of cultural identity.

The cause of chronic poverty and what is seen today all throughout the Appalachia region are the characteristics of other poor places in different rural areas. In the newspaper clipping from Greenville, South Carolina, there is an interview with Randy Daniels. In the interview, he claims that Harlan is sorriest place around, Daniels is an unemployed laborer. He says they claim factories will be put in but Harlin is just as bad in the 1990s as it was before. Poverty was still in its prime during the 1990s especially in this region many years after the Great Depression. During this time Appalachia was labeled as the Third World in the U.S.

Appalachia plays a major role in the debate of poverty and inequality to this day as it did in the 1960s and earlier. Young people who are capable have decided to escape to the city leaving behind a group of unemployed and people who are addicted to drugs, trapped by their past and their own self-destructive behaviors. Their culture which is mostly independent gradually became a loyal individualism. They were not interested in the good of everyone else unless it corresponded with the good for them. After this, the people of the Appalachia region were only connected by existence instead of improvement. This change held comfort for the people of Appalachia. People raised in Appalachia were not fit for urban life according to most people because it was assumed that their values would not help them to adapt in a quickly changing America. Appalachians had to choose between living in poverty for the rest of their lives or leaving where they were comfortable.

Throughout Hillbilly Elegy the theme of hillbilly identity is reoccurring. Throughout the book, Vance defines hillbillies as white Americans of Scots-Irish descent where poverty is considered part of the family tradition. For many generations, they have been laborers who happen to be uneducated but are passionately dedicated to their communities and traditions. They are also strangely resistant to change. Despite that they suffer from poverty and social confinement those considered hillbillies are proud of their culture, communities, and family. Vance expresses approval of the idea that his Appalachian community values their loyalty and honor above anything else. Vance also believes that these same values most of the time prevent the community from moving forward causing them to feel caught in a constant state of dependency as well as poverty. Vance is able to see both sides of the hillbilly culture that helps to offer an account of their identity which balances familiarity and compassion unlike someone who has a more objective and critical judgment. Vance states that poverty goes back for generations in many families that suffer from it. Many of them have been poor for most of their life and intergenerational poverty is inherited.

Poverty in the Appalachia region is a reoccurring problem. Throughout the book Hillbilly Elegy and after the Great Depression, many people in the Appalachian region have inherited poverty and have become stuck in a cycle of coal work. Unemployment then and now is something impacting this region and increasing the rate of poverty. The region of Appalachia continues to remain one of the poorest within the United States. The residents and environment suffer continuously because of the coal industry. Having an isolated culture and refusing to partake in the public good pushes the Appalachia population into poverty. Their poverty also comes from a sense of learned helplessness and believing once you are born into this you can not leave.  

01 August 2022
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