Chapter 11

Summary: Chapter 11

At Ohio State, Vance worked two jobs to support himself. His drive to succeed sustained him, even though he drank, ate poorly, slept little, and mismanaged his money. His mother and Aunt Lori cared for him when he came down with mono and a staph infection. After listening to a classmate speak contemptuously about American soldiers in Iraq, Vance decided to finish college and move on to law school as quickly as possible. He increased his class load and graduated summa cum laude in just under two years. 

Looking back on that time, Vance is grateful to live in a country where someone like him can come so far. It troubles him that significant percentages of white conservatives could believe Barack Obama to be foreign-born or a Muslim, or could believe that the 9/11 attacks or the Newtown massacre were staged by the federal government. Such misguided thinking cannot be explained by media misinformation alone. It springs from a loss of faith in America, a pervasive skepticism about everything from the evening news, politicians, and universities to the prospects of employment in a depressed economy. When Vance encountered this outlook in his family and friends, while spending the year after graduation back in Middletown, he realized that his optimism had made him an outsider.

Analysis: Chapter 11

Vance argues that his hillbilly childhood helped to shape his conservative political views. He foreshadows his growing interest in politics when he takes a job at the Ohio Statehouse while he is in college. Vance highlights legislation about payday lenders as an example of how politicians’ attempts to help poor people end up harming them instead. Vance expresses his dissatisfaction with today’s politicians by pointing out that politicians are no longer the heroes they once were. Although Vance largely leans conservative in his political beliefs, he expresses disappointment at the fact that many conservative voters are ignorant of facts, suggesting that he envisions himself as a new type of conservative who embraces a mix of tradition and education. He is also critical of people’s rush to blame their problems on the government. Vance, like Mamaw, thinks that people are in control of their own lives, so the idea that many poor people feel powerless over their fate bothers him.

Vance explores the concepts of destiny and self-determination by reflecting on the progression of his life, from his humble beginnings to his current success. Earlier in the book, Vance explains how hillbilly culture contributed to a feeling that he was not worthy or capable of creating a better life for himself. He posits that this feeling of inadequacy is an aspect of hillbilly culture that has negatively affected many generations. When Vance is a student at Ohio State, he overcomes his feelings of inadequacy and feels in control of his own destiny for the first time. As a result of his success, Vance feels both gratitude and hope for the future when he thinks about the United States. Vance hopes to teach others about the power of self-determination by using his own experiences as proof that people succeed or fail based on the expectations they set for their own lives. Vance’s exploration of the concept of destiny reiterates that anyone from any background can achieve what he has achieved if they work hard and embrace the right mindset.