Chapters 5–7

Summary: Chapter 5

Bev’s marriage to Lindsay’s father, her high-school boyfriend, did not last long. J.D.’s father, Bev’s second husband, left the family when J.D. was a toddler. Mamaw despised the third husband, Bob Hamel, essentially because he was a hillbilly like herself. However, Bob made good money driving a truck, and he treated Lindsay and J.D. kindly. Bev, who had just earned her nursing degree, taught J.D. about science, and Mamaw taught him the finer points of fistfighting. J.D. was happy. Things changed, however, when Bob and Bev moved thirty-five miles away to escape Mamaw and Papaw’s “interference.” They spend more money than they earned, and they fought constantly and with increasing violence. 

Bob and Bev’s marriage ended after Bev had an affair. She and the kids returned to live near Mamaw and Papaw, but Bev began to stay out late, partying. She brought home a new boyfriend every few months. Her relationship with her kids became chaotic and confrontational. One day, as Bev was giving J.D. a roadside beating, he ran away and took refuge in a nearby house. He was rescued by police after the homeowner called 911. J.D. lied in court to protect his mother from a domestic violence conviction, but from then on, he lived with Mamaw and Papaw. Mamaw explained that if Bev had a problem with that arrangement, she could talk with Mamaw’s gun. This was how hillbilly families handled things. They did not need all those courtroom officials, with their accents like TV news anchors.

Summary: Chapter 6

Lindsay did her best to look after J.D. and be the “adult” in the household. What she and J.D. learned from watching their mother’s husbands and boyfriends come and go was that men can’t be counted on. When J.D. was eleven, Bev finally reconnected J.D. with his biological father, Don Bowman. According to Mamaw, Don had abandoned J.D., but Don described long efforts, with multiple lawyers involved, over custody of J.D. He had embraced fundamentalist Christianity. He gave up the legal battle only because it appeared that J.D. was suffering psychological harm, and only, Don said, after God confirmed through signs that the fight should end. Sociologists have observed that religious faith makes people happier and better adjusted, and this held true in Don’s case. He and his new wife were raising their children in a peaceful home in the country. However, as J.D. was drawn to Don’s faith and embraced it, he grew narrow in his views. He became suspicious of Catholics like Dan, Aunt Wee’s new husband, who accepted evolution. J.D. also began to worry that he might be gay. When he told Mamaw his fear, she assured him that even if he were gay, God would still love him.

Summary: Chapter 7

Papaw and Mamaw lived in separate homes after the separation, but they spent much of their day together at Mamaw’s. When he did not show up one day, the family rushed to his house and found him dead. Papaw was buried in Jackson. At the funeral service, J.D. described Papaw as the man who taught him the things men needed to know. After Papaw’s death, Bev’s mental health deteriorated, until one day she was standing out in her yard wearing only a towel, screaming obscenities at her latest boyfriend, named Matt, and others. She was dripping blood from her sliced wrists. 

Bev had begun abusing prescription narcotics during the time away from Middletown, when her marriage with Bob was deteriorating. After she moved back to Middletown, her drug habit got her fired from her job at the hospital. After the crisis in the front yard, Bev entered rehab. With Mamaw also visibly under strain, J.D. stopped spending as much time at Mamaw’s place. Lindsay was increasingly forced to act as the responsible adult in the household. During family visits at the rehab center, Lindsay told Bev that Bev’s many short-term boyfriend relationships had a negative impact on J.D. In his mind, J.D. questioned the claim that addiction is a disease, no more the patient’s fault than cancer. However, he was supportive, and even went to group meetings with Bev after she completed rehab and returned home.

Analysis: Chapters 5–7

Vance states that Mamaw differed from many other hillbillies in her strong belief in social mobility and the importance of education. Still, even when the Vance family tries to improve their lives, the negative aspects of hillbilly culture cause problems for them. Vance describes one of his mother’s marriages as being as superficial as a family sitcom, suggesting that his mother valued appearances more than substance. The marriage eventually turns violent, because despite looking appealing from the outside, dysfunction reigns behind closed doors. Mamaw seems to anticipate more violence in Vance’s life and teaches him how to fight, and Vance gets into several altercations when he is young because he feels compelled to defend his family’s honor. Vance believes that Mamaw hoped her children would find success through education, a white-collar job, and a good middle-class marriage, but hillbilly culture is infused with inherent challenges that made those goals seem impossible at times.

Vance explores the role of religion in his life by contrasting Mamaw’s version of religion with his father’s. Vance is concerned with religion from a young age, as illustrated by his asking Mamaw if God loves their family after his sister is defeated in a modeling competition. Vance describes Mamaw as deeply religious even though she doesn’t attend church. Mamaw believes that God helps those who help themselves. Vance’s father is also deeply religious, and he attends church and is active in the church community. Vance’s dad’s strict version of religion isolates him from people outside of his church; for instance, he doesn’t have any friends that drink alcohol, as it goes against his religious beliefs. Vance’s dad’s church is extremely harsh and judgmental. They judge gay people, non-Christians, and even Christians who aren’t Christian enough. Vance recalls that it wasn’t his father’s faith that he was attracted to as much as his father’s prosperity, suggesting that much like Mamaw, Vance tries to learn how people improve their lives by watching those who appear successful. However, Vance learns that when it comes to being accepted, Mamaw’s religion features a God who loves and forgives him.

In addition to describing the effects of hillbilly culture on social mobility, Vance also explores the positive and negative effects that it has on relationships. Vance and his sister have a skewed idea of what a romantic relationship should look like because they’ve witnessed their mother’s dysfunctional failed marriages. Consequently, Vance is not always authentic in his own relationships. Like his mother and grandmother, he seeks out people who help him fit in. Papaw’s relationship with his family is illustrated by the story of Papaw and Mamaw searching cars that are leaving a funeral because they thought their grandson was missing, and by Papaw kicking open the door of a public restroom while holding a gun because he was worried something happened to his daughter. Though Vance’s family members show bad judgement, they also show love. When one person in the family fails, another steps up. Due to his mother’s addiction, Vance primarily relies on his sister, his grandmother, and ultimately himself to get through his teenage years. Vance explains that though his relationships were problematic, they were also well-intentioned and, in some ways, good for him.