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Campus Book Discussion (2018): Hillbilly Elegy

Chapter 2

This chapter provides further exploration into Hillbilly culture and explains how Vance came to be who he is.  He provides colorful descriptions of Papaw's and Mamaw’s family backgrounds, both of which are filled with feuds and violence.  His grandparents married as teenagers because of an unplanned pregnancy that resulted in the two leaving their hometown of Jackson, Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio.   His grandfather secured a job at a prominent steel company.   Although the job would move them into the “middle class,”  Vance’s grandparents suffered the pressures of economic advancement: of trying to fit into a new place while remembering where they came from.  Mamaw and Papaw believed deeply in the American dream, and through hard work, had achieved it, in part financially, but continued to struggle with the cultural differences that living in Middletown, Ohio presented.   Nor were they successful at giving their children the “head start” they had hoped. This chapter highlights the challenges that come with economic mobility.

American Dreams

What does the American Dream Mean to you
What does the American Dream Mean to You?  This article coincides with the video, “Two American Families" (below).   The interviewers ask viewers what the American Dream means to them and receive varying responses that range from paying off debt to an outright rejection of the dream as a possibility. This article makes a great launching pad for discussion about the American Dream as myth or reality.


Two American Families

This PBS special chronicles the lives of two working class families—one black, the other white—for two decades. Although both families are hard-working, they both struggle to maintain the American Dream as they have envisioned it. The film raises an interesting question about what the American Dream is, who has access to it, and what it takes to hold on to it.

Food for Thought

What are the psychological and social costs that come with cultural assimilation?

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