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Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy: Differences and Similarities

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates are similar, but there is a great deal of comparison between them. In the following paragraph I will discuss key points that will compare and contrast Coates and Vance’s history, and the difficulties they went through. Both authors experience some moments of intervention that changed the course of their lives. They became successful, despite the difficulties that both authors endured and found a way to achieve upward mobility and success.

Hillbilly Elegy is a book that talks a lot about different types of cultures and how they affected the writer throughout his life. The book tells a story of dysfunctional families, substance abuse, spirituality, the moral decline of Appalachia, and the struggles to achieve true economic and social mobility in the United States. Vance knows about cultures because of the experiences he had as a child. Born in Ohio with a family of Kentucky hillbillies, his childhood was difficult for many reasons such as his mother. The way that his mother treated him took a toll on Vance along with the vast array of men she was married with, often in short intervals.

Vance was raised and saved by his grandparents who stepped up to be his guardians. Throughout his life he would spend many days moving from their place back to his mom’s. His dad was out of his life for many years and even when he stayed with him it did not last long. His grandparents told him that he could achieve anything if he worked hard enough and created a goal for himself. They helped him with school and anything he needed at the time. Even after he became older his grandmother, who became a widow and older, helped him with social safety, security, and stability. He learned more from his grandparents during his life than with his birth parents. His grandparents supported him and told him that he could do great things, that’s why Vance states at the end of the book that his grandparents were the best thing that ever happened to him.

As the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn a lot about J.D’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and mother. The traits that followed them, never allowed them to escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.

Vance learned a lot when he went to college even becoming one of the few in his family to attend one. He even learned how to dress, “things I didn’t know when I got to Yale Law School”, including “that you needed to wear a suit to a job interview (Kunzru).” Thanks to his grandparents, he figured out the true meaning of upward mobility in regards to his background as a hillbilly. He went to Ohio State University in Columbus and matured setting goals for himself and working several jobs. He attended that college for 1 year and 11 months and went to Yale to get his law degree where he met his wife.

His wife helped him with some of his inner issues he developed as an adolescent. He had trust issues with many people because of his past and blamed himself and the hillbilly culture, but his wife made him open his eyes. She told him that he was never going to succeed in life or move on if he kept blaming his past or where he was born. He was stubborn but then realized that everything she said held some truth, and instead of feeling ashamed of being a hillbilly he accepted it. The description of the culture he grew up in is an essential assortment of knowledge that helps the reader to understand the specific era of humanity that he is in. He came from a place were hillbillies are used to blaming everything on everyone but themselves, and they feel like the government has failed them. This shows how he is different from the others, because Vance stop blaming other people and start being responsible for his actions.

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The second book called Between The World And Me talks about a father that wants to warn his kid about what it feels like to be black, and explain him why he should be ready. Coates was born in Baltimore in the 1980’s during a dangerous time. He explains how he had to learn how to live, and how at times it was pretty difficult for him to cope. He started his journey at Howard University where his dad was a librarian and he developed a love for books and writing. He mentions how he saw a lot of people he knew killed. For example, a changing point for Coates was Prince Jones death. The death of Prince Jones was surrounded by questionable actions of the police officer that was never charged. His death really impact Coates life on a way that he began to find his own truth, it was a death that made Coates felt a lot of emotions about the life that he was into just by the color of his skin. For him, to be black in a white supremacist society is to live in fear. If your body is not stolen from you, the fear of losing your body steals your time and your freedom. Another example of this is during an interview where he stated that a friend stayed out late, and how he felt it was not safe at the time given what was on the news. He would remember that his friend would often tell him, “Don’t worry. You’re with me. And I’m the scariest thing out here (Bennet).” A statement like this could only leave him wondering, “What does it mean, then, to live in a body that is both scared and scary (Bennett)?’

Coates grew up in a city that was really dangerous towards minorities, and at the time felt as if white people were demonstrating their superiority due to the bad perception of their leadership. However, Vance grew up in a house that he was being hurt by an alcoholic mother and often had financial problems, but Coates never had major financial problems. He grew up in a stable home with two parents with good jobs, but the city that he lived in, was dangerous. Vance, on the other hand did not have the same resources.

Everything changed for Coates when he had his first son Samori, because he realized that he didn’t want his son to go through all the horrible things he went through. Preparing his son for the future, he tells his son that “errors cost more to us”, explaining that everything was harder in life and mistakes were more detrimental. Coates mood within the book was strange,“ There is a Manichaean tone to some of the passages in this book, and at times, a hazardous tendency to generalize. After Sept. 11, he writes that he could “see no difference between the officer (Kakutani),”the things he witnessed in his life resonated deeply. In Paris, Coates learned that life was not quite the way he thought it was and that black people and white people could coexist. The book does not end on optimism however, because he demonstrates the haunting legacy of the American dream, and how he fears that it can never truly disappear. On the other hand, Coates does provide words of encouragement and support to Samori and the reader. I think that this book was for his son and, to teach us or warn us about his life as well.

Both of their childhoods were similar because they both had some horrible things going on, like Vance’s mother and Coates’ experience with the death of people he knew. They both went to college to strive towards a career and they both found a wife. Their communities were different because one author was a hillbilly while the other one was black, but both sides experience oppression, “white Appalachians take on the qualities of an oppressed

minority much in the same way that conservative individuals view African Americans: as people who have suffered hardships but ultimately are only holding themselves back (Schafft).”

They both started blaming everything on them or where they came from, until they figured out that they should be proud of it, or at least understand it. Vance thinks that it was more about politics and upward mobility, but the Coates knew that success was achievable yet difficult because of the color of his skin. Vance’s hope for the future is for people to understand upward mobility while Coates wants his son and the world to understand how life is for him.

At the end of each book they both understand that life was not like they thought it would be, and that blaming their past only hindered them. For Vance the American Dream was for him to let all the cultures be treated the same way, and for Coates the American Dream was for the people on top to stay in power dwindling everyone else. That is why I believe they wrote their books, to let people understand them and for people to know more about their’ cultures in America. Vance and Coates have a lot of similarities and differences, but they both wanted the reader to understand what they went through to become who they are.

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Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy: Differences and Similarities. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
“Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy: Differences and Similarities.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy: Differences and Similarities. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Jun. 2023].
Between the World and Me and Hillbilly Elegy: Differences and Similarities [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Jun 10]. Available from:
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