Chapter 10

Summary: Chapter 10

J.D.’s stable living situation and improved school performance brought him into contact with new friends. Since they all planned to go to college, J.D. did, too. However, with his school performance improving but still not solid, he felt unready. Instead, he joined the Marines, over Mamaw’s fierce objections. Letters from his family sustained him through boot camp. When he returned to Middletown, people treated him with new respect. He took great satisfaction in helping Mamaw keep up the payments on her health insurance, and he was at her bedside when she died of a collapsed lung. During the drive to the cemetery, Lindsay and J.D.’s fond reminiscences of Mamaw were interrupted by Bev’s demand that they focus instead on her grief at losing her mother. Lindsay ended the conversation by replying that Mamaw had been their mom, too. 

J. D. Vance served in Iraq and then finished the rest of his time in the Marines uneventfully. He had learned to be grateful for the good things life gave him, instead of always being angry. He had learned how to live like an adult—how to eat right and stay fit, how work with others from different backgrounds, how to lead, how to rebound from failure, how to handle unexpected challenges and accept constructive criticism. The Marine Corps had taught him that a person’s choices matter. That fall, he started classes at Ohio State.

Analysis: Chapter 10

Vance begins to understand that social mobility is not only based on appearances, but that it also requires personal growth. One symbol of social mobility in the book is golf. Mamaw believes that rich people do business while playing golf, so she encourages Vance to learn the sport. Mamaw also forbids Vance from hanging out with kids who aren’t likely to go to college. Selectively choosing activities and companions is proof of Vance’s family’s focus on social mobility, but these choices center on surface appearances. Vance explains his own social mobility through his description of beginning to feel empowered after joining the Marines. This sense of empowerment demonstrates that Vance has experienced personal growth along with social mobility. Joining the Marines teaches Vance to make better decisions about his health and finances. He’s no longer just pretending to improve, but actively doing so. Vance fully transforms into an adult when Mamaw dies. He feels fully responsible for his own life, and he feels confident in his ability to take care of those he loves. A main difference between Vance and other family members who experience social mobility is that Vance eschews a double life, and endeavors to ensure that his outward persona is aligned with the way he behaves at home.

Vance continues to examine his personal history with hillbilly culture through the lens of his own personal growth. Throughout the book, there is tension between his family home in Kentucky and the place Mamaw and Papaw settled in Middletown, Ohio. Vance leaving for the Marines mirrors Mamaw and Papaw leaving Kentucky in search of a better life, and it serves as another step in the family’s multi-generational journey from hillbilly to success story. However, Vance isn’t completely removed from his hillbilly beginnings, and he explains the continued influence of hillbilly culture on his life by showing that he feels the absence of it. When someone insults Vance in the Marines, he chooses not to fight them, a reaction that is at odds with what he learned from hillbilly culture. Vance also notes his discovery of the lack of nutrition and health in hillbilly culture by pointing out that the food he eats as a Marine is far healthier than the food Mamaw served. Vance has transformed himself: he is not a hillbilly pretending to be a Marine, but a Marine, period. As Vance ages, he moves further from his hillbilly culture, but he still acknowledges its influence and maintains his love and gratitude for it.