JD Vance’s Wife Usha Helped Rid Him of His Hillbilly Ways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Hillbilly Elegy" by JD Vance. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What is JD Vance’s wife Usha Vance like in Hillbilly Elegy? How does her family help Vance deal with his own dysfunctional family?

We’ll cover how JD Vance’s wife helped him move beyond the confines of his childhood culture and how her family taught him to leave no one in his own behind.

The Influence of JD Vance’s Wife

JD had made it. He was a successful Yale lawyer. He had beaten the odds and achieved his slice of the American Dream. But his girlfriend Usha Chilukuri (soon to be JD Vance’s wife Usha Vance) helped JD realize that he still carried the baggage of his tumultuous upbringing. She pointed out that he still had no healthy mechanism of conflict resolution.

While he might not have taken to screaming, cursing, and vicious insulting like his mother, he would withdraw completely from her at the slightest disagreement. He feared becoming like Bev and desperately wished to avoid subjecting Usha (eventually JD Vance’s wife) to that experience.

On one occasion, Usha Chilukuri attempted to comfort JD after he’d performed badly in an interview with a Washington, D.C. law firm. He exploded at her in classic Bev-style, yelling, “Don’t make excuses for weakness. I didn’t get here by making excuses for failure.”

He eventually apologized, expecting his future wife to pounce on this act of “surrender” and go for the jugular with him—because that’s exactly what his family back in Middletown would have done. But instead, JD Vance’s future wife forgave him and explained to him that he needed to learn how to talk to her.

JD further saw how much healing he needed to do when he went to Thanksgiving dinner at Usha’s family’s home. The family was happy and free of conflict and drama—they actually seemed to enjoy each other’s company. There were no accusations or angry exchanges between family members. The family of JD Vance’s wife taught him what a functional family looked like.

In fact, when JD learned that there was an estranged family member, he was surprised by her father’s explanation. He told JD that he still called and checked up on him, telling him that you can’t just turn your back on family. This was a key realization that the family of JD Vance’s wife Usha Vance taught him.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Prompted by his experiences with Usha Chilukuri’s family, JD wanted to learn more about how the kind of traumas he’d experienced as a child affected people in their adulthood. He researched the phenomenon called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Common ACEs included being sworn at or insulted; being pushed or grabbed; witnessing a lack of support among family members; living with substance abusers; and exposure to people who were clinically depressed or suicidal. Looking back, JD realized that he had experienced all of these situations during the course of his childhood.

He saw that he wasn’t alone. Over half of children growing up in working-class households had experienced at least one ACE. The contrast with non-working-class people, among whom only one in ten experienced an ACE, was stark.

Children with ACEs are likelier to suffer from anxiety and depression, performly poorly in their studies, and experience unstable relationships—tragically, the pattern of dysfunction in these children’s lives perpetuates itself generation after generation.

As adults, people replicate the instability they themselves witnessed as children. Thus, JD’s mother descended from being a salutatorian of her high school to the multiple marriages and drug addiction of her adulthood. Even people like his sister Lindsay, his cousin Gail, and his Aunt Wee, all of whom managed to achieve stability, struggled through periods of dysfunctional relationships. JD Vance’s wife would help him learn to stop the cycle of dysfunction.

Never Turn Your Back

JD’s new attitude toward his mother would once again be put to the test when she turned to a new drug: heroin. This time, however, JD worked to help his mother get on her feet. Following the advice of Usha Vance’s father, he was practicing empathy rather than turning his back. The family of JD Vance’s wife continued to be an influence on him.

He checked her into a Middletown motel to help her avoid homelessness and monitored her finances to make sure she stayed on track. He was acting more like a parent to her, as if she were his child. And he accepted his limits: he couldn’t solve all of his mom’s problems, she had to fight some of her battles on her own. But he also saw that he couldn’t turn his back on family, no matter how much they disappointed or hurt him. This was the lesson of the family of JD Vance’s wife.

JD Vance’s Wife Usha Helped Rid Him of His Hillbilly Ways

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "Hillbilly Elegy" at Shortform . Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less .

Here's what you'll find in our full Hillbilly Elegy summary :

  • The hallmarks of hillbilly culture and why they hold people back
  • How JD Vance broke out of his hillbilly childhood and graduated from Yale
  • Why the author thinks hillbillies might be beyond saving

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

2 thoughts on “JD Vance’s Wife Usha Helped Rid Him of His Hillbilly Ways

  • December 12, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Best book ever – I wish everyone would remove political views, religion and stop getting insulted over the reality that exists in a world where those that never experienced that life are very opinionated and some of those that did choose not to write about it and just try to forget, I can’t blame them and I’m no one to judge.

    Thank you JD – i DONT care who you want the president to be. I only pray one day Hillbilly Elegy in both book and movie format are shown in every elementary, middle and high school worldwide, especially in the less fortunate areas for I believe the INNOCENT message to any young mind not thinking of Obamacare, Trump vs Biden etc., but thinking instead no one cares and wants to give up maybe just maybe they will understand “tough love” and not run from it when and if they find their Mamaw. Well to all humans in and out of these societies that can’t see past the labels, red tape, feel offended, feel exploited, feel that this book degraded and decided to pulverize this book and movie- what’s your story? How are you helping? I’m truly sorry you feel the way you do. Not because of your sentiments but because you cannot see past what you were shown or taught since not everyone has a rockin mamaw and a grandson who didn’t ignore Mamaw’s conversation with the meals on wheels guy and got the picture –

    Here’s my prayer for all, and I will prayer to whatever is out there of good without naming any Gods for my God knows what I call him and this prayer is for all.

    I pray everyone who is fortunate in life can step back and help one child in need WITHOUT ABUSE, more RED TAPE, and oh without needing to be praised and just act like HALF OF who Mamaw when she took JD home with her.

    I pray the less fortunate find work and help for whatever their situation WITHOUT THE RED TAPE!! I pray their children make it.
    I pray for our military, homelessness and I pray for all our addicts and yes they are all of our addicts because they are our co-workers, brothers, sisters, father, mother, distant ken folk, yeah your addicts , my addicts they live among us – I pray for free care especially if they have overdosed once, attempted suicide once, and if neither just a long stretched out history with addiction. I pray they aren’t set free to fen for themselves because our government, our people can’t put all of ur views down and unite.

    I know no one would feel lost like JD did back then and no one would feel inferior to his story or feel like he’s somehow superior for airing all his dirty laundry.

    Quote from interview above:
    Don’t make excuses for weakness. I didn’t get here by making excuses for failure.” By JD to wife Aisha

    Re-worded quote from above:
    “Don’t make excuses for their failure. They are weak because we failed them”.
    By me – M.Vallo
    PS – not a writing/English major and hate punctuation- some have told me I can’t write how I talk – but I just did – so go ahead criticize away – dale (Spanish word)

    • February 21, 2021 at 7:12 pm

      It is kin folk not ken folk, however very interesting article.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.