J.D. Vance

The author and narrator of Hillbilly Elegy. (As a character in the book he is referred to as “J.D.” here, while “Vance” is used to designate him as the author and narrator.) He is a former Marine, and a graduate of Ohio State University and Yale Law School who becomes a venture capitalist.

Mamaw (Bonnie Blanton)

The grandmother of J.D. Vance, a self-identified hillbilly. Mamaw is fiercely protective of her family, sometimes resorting to violence to defend them. Mamaw helps to raise J.D. and he credits Mamaw with his success.

Mom (Bev)

J.D.’s mother and a former nurse who struggles with addiction and dysfunctional relationships. Bev is smart and has a fiery temper. A sometimes-absent single mother, Bev strives to teach her children the importance of education.


J.D.’s wife and the mother of his children. A former classmate of J.D.’s at Yale Law School, Usha is humorous and direct. She teaches J.D. what a functional family relationship should look like.

Papaw (Jim Vance)

J.D.’s grandfather, Papaw is considered hillbilly royalty. Papaw is a hard worker. He battles alcohol addiction most of his life, but he manages to quit drinking before his death.


J.D.’s older sister, Lindsay helps to raise J.D. when their mom is absent. Lindsay is a troubled teen but finds happiness and stability after she marries and has children.

Don Bowman

J.D.’s biological father and J.D.’s mother’s second husband. Don is abusive to J.D.’s mother and gives J.D. up for adoption when J.D. is six, but he later finds religion and cleans up his life.

Aunt Wee (Lori)

J.D.’s aunt, the youngest of Mamaw and Papaw’s children. Lori is a survivor of an abusive marriage. She ends up in a happy marriage later in life, one of the only healthy marriages J.D. remembers from his childhood. 

Mamaw Blanton

Bonnie Blanton’s mother and J.D.’s great grandmother. Before her death, Mamaw Blaton was the matriarch of the family and always welcomed J.D. and other family into her home in Kentucky.

Uncle Teaberry

Mamaw’s oldest brother and the meanest of the Blanton men. Uncle Teaberry embodies the loyalty and violence that is inherent in hillbilly culture.

Uncle Pet

Mamaw’s brother and the most financially successful of the Blanton family. Uncle Pet is loyal but often violent. 

Uncle David

Mamaw’s pot-smoking brother. After J.D.’s parents get divorced, his mother changed his middle name from Donald (after his father) to David, after Uncle David.

Uncle Gary

The youngest brother of Mamaw and the nicest of the Blanton men. Uncle Gary left Kentucky for Indiana to start a roofing business.

Uncle Jimmy

J.D.’s uncle and Mamaw and Papaw’s oldest child. Uncle Jimmy moved from Middletown to Napa, California and is one of J.D.’s idols.


J.D.’s cousin and one of J.D.’s favorite people. Although she was a teenage single mom, Gail persevered and ended up having a successful life.

Bob Hamel

J.D.’s stepfather and eventual adoptive father. Bob is a hillbilly, but he makes good money to support his family. Bob and J.D.’s mother eventually divorce after their marriage turns violent.

Bonnie South

Mamaw’s best friend when she lived in Kentucky. Bonnie South dated Papaw before he married Mamaw.


One of J.D.’s mom’s husbands. Matt is a firefighter and a good male role model for J.D.


Lindsay’s husband. J.D. likes Kevin because he never mistreats his sister.


Lindsay’s son and J.D.’s nephew. J.D. is fond of Kameron.


A stepfather of J.D.’s for a time. Ken was an older man that proposed to J.D.’s mother after only knowing her for three days.


A young man that reminds J.D. of himself. Brian’s mother is also an addict and ultimately dies from her addiction.