This post gives you a synopsis and also a list of club questions for the Caste book by Isabel Wilkerson. There are many themes in this book and each of them can be the subject of a discussion.
The Caste System is something that has been in existence for a very long time. It is a social structure in which people are divided into classes based on their birth. India was the first country to have this system, which is still prevalent in the country. Other countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Burma also have their own systems.
Isabel Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. She shares a different perspective in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. She writes how the black community struggled to establish itself in a country where the caste system still thrived.
Caste book synopsis
Isabel Wilkerson explores the hidden caste structure that has formed American society. She reveals how a hierarchy of human divisions continues to determine our lives. Beyond race or class, our lives are defined by a powerful untold system of division. In Caste, Isabel Wilkerson offers an astonishing portrait of this occult phenomenon.
India, Nazi Germany, and the United States share a social structure: a caste system. Wilkerson explains this theory in this book. She dissects the causes and the way to overcome social division, the origin of conflicts and turmoil, around our era. With a clear rigor, she traces the 8 pillars that connect the caste systems across civilizations. She also shows how our own era of intense conflict and upheaval has arisen as an outcome of caste.
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Through the stories of real people, she exposes how their insidious hangovers emerge daily. She also documents their staggering health costs. And then she explores their effects on culture and politics. Finally, Wilkerson points to ways we can overcome their artificial divisions. And how we can move toward our common humanity.
Inheriting a flawed and unfair social structure does not exempt us from responsibility. Wilkerson gives the following example. If we live in the house of our grandparents’ grandparents, the building will most likely be in poor condition. It needs repairs or even new foundations if it is in danger of collapsing. Something similar happens in the United States. Their society was made up of castes. In conclusion, it replaced the black slaves who came from Africa without evangelism.
Those injustices have become embedded in our present. This book is thus a mirror that shows the evils of our time. Without tenderness, with directness, and moral clarity without reproach.
Deeply original and styled, Caste is a revealing study of what lies behind our daily lives. No one can afford to ignore the moral clarity of her ideas or her urgent call for a freer and more just world.
Caste book club questions to discuss
When reading Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, you can use the following questions as discussion starters for your book club. Use them to consider the role that caste plays in your own life and community. And talk about ways to challenge and dismantle the caste system.
Before you begin, consider the following questions:
- What are the different types of caste systems that exist in the world?
- How does the caste system affect the lives of those who live under it?
- What are the consequences of caste blindness?
Now, let’s discuss the book.
1. First of all what does the word “caste” mean to you?
2. What are your first impressions of the book? What did you find most compelling or challenging?
3. How does the caste system create division and inequality?
4. Do you think that the caste system is something that exists in our society today?
5. In your opinion what are the strong points of Wilkerson’s comparison of American racial hierarchy and the latent Siberian virus? Especially in the context that racism has been eradicated in America?
6. Wilkerson says:
“It is no honor to be tolerated. Every spiritual tradition says love your neighbor as yourself, not tolerate them.”Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
How many of us do that? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? If not, will you do so in the future?
7. What are some of the differences you come across in the three big caste systems the author mentions? Do you also see some similarities between these three systems?
8. What examples from the book illustrate the points the author is trying to make?
9. What is the difference and relationship between caste and race? Are both the same thing? What differentiates the poor from the middle and upper classes?
10. What are your thoughts on the caste system in America? How is it different from other hierarchical systems?
11. How does the caste system relate to the lives of black Americans?
12. How does the caste system affect the different levels of black America?
13. People can be allies, but the caste system turns them against each other. Why and how is it possible?
14. In what ways do you see caste impacting your life and also the lives of those around you?
Read another bestseller by Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns
15. Do you think the caste system is something that can be changed? If so, how? And also discuss what are some of the ways we can change the caste system.
16. What do you think are the most important lessons we can learn from this book?
17. How racism changes into unconscious bias. What methods can we use to compensate for unconscious prejudices in the caste system?
18. Wilkerson makes it clear in her book that if you are seen violating someone’s caste, it will be dangerous for you. You may face humiliation and may even die. Do you agree with the author?
19. “If people were given the choice between democracy and whiteness, how many would choose whiteness?”Isabel Wilkerson quoted Taylor Branch in her book Caste
How do you think the majority of people would answer this question?
20. After reading this book I realized a vast misunderstanding that I was unaware of until now. Africans are not black until they go to America or Europe. Because the Western world chooses to see them that way. In her book, Wilkerson writes:
“Africans are not black, they are Igbo and Yoruba, Ewe, Akan, Ndebele. They are not black, they are just themselves. They are humans on the land. That is how they see themselves, and that is who they are.”Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
What is your opinion about this? Have you ever thought this way?
21. Wilkerson also argues that caste is the fundamental organizing principle of our world. Do you agree or disagree?
22. Wilkerson, as an African-American woman, shared her personal experiences to explain her point of view. Did reading about her personal experiences help you get the theory of this book?
23. Wilkerson explains the American caste system by using different metaphors. Such as bones inside the human body, the beams of a house, and so on. Which metaphor do you think is closest to the truth? Did any of these metaphors help you understand the concept?
24. How has your understanding of caste changed after reading the book? Did it also change your perspective on the caste system at all?
25. How do you think our understanding of caste has not changed since Wilkerson’s book was published?
26. What did you think of the final chapter of the book?
27. What are your thoughts on the author’s conclusion?
28. What questions do you still have about the caste system?
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For what you might want to read next, check out these books:
From the New York Times bestselling author. This book looks at the consequences of this tendency to envision a new white male identity free of sexism and race. Although this book is irritating, it is a must-read for everyone. It will challenge your thoughts and understanding of American identity. While it presents a daring new vision of American grandeur.
The White Tiger is a story about the corruption that lies at the center of the caste system. The main character flees the narrow life of a low caste that dictates most aspects of his life. After that, he tries to make a new life for himself and starts working as a driver for a rich man. But, to completely get rid of his caste and become rich, he commits a heinous crime. It is a quick page-turner that Adiga has written in a harsh and darkly humorous style. She highlights the brutality that separates modern India’s social hierarchy.
We hope you enjoyed this article on book club questions for Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.
Kamran is a literature graduate from a reputed university. He started his journey in the world of writing blogs in 2012. Over the years, his passion for writing and love of books evolved into a dedicated book blog. With a discerning eye from a literature lover, he offers reviews, summaries, and thought-provoking discussion questions.