Step into the world of Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant chemist with a mind like no other. It’s the early 1960s, and Elizabeth is breaking boundaries in a male-dominated industry at Hastings Research Institute.
The only one who truly sees her worth is Calvin Evans, a Nobel-prize-nominated scientist who falls in love with her intelligence. But life takes an unexpected turn, and Elizabeth finds herself a single mother and the star of America’s most beloved cooking show, Supper at Six.
Her unique approach to cooking challenges the status quo and revolutionizes the culinary world. Join me on this journey through the hilarious and insightful book club questions for Lessons in Chemistry, and discover the daring spirit of Elizabeth Zott amidst a society, patriarchal in its approach.
And in case you want to read what the book is about and know my opinion, I have a detailed blog post here – Lessons in Chemistry Book Review.
The post might contain affiliate links. For more information, read our disclosure. Also, these questions contain spoilers.
Book Club Questions for Lessons in Chemistry
- Initially, Calvin and Elizabeth’s relationship was strictly professional; however, their bond eventually blossomed into romance as they fell in love. Working together at Hastings Research Institute gave them a chance to cultivate an intellectual connection that led to mutual understanding and support when life got tough for either of them.
Considering their likings for each other, what are the traits of Calvin that you liked, especially as a life partner?
- Calvin’s father never writing to him speaks volumes about his lack of interest and care for him, even though he knew who he was. This serves as a testament to the emotional abandonment that Calvin had endured from his family long before their deaths—rendering him more susceptible when Elizabeth enters into the picture.
Do you think this was the primary reason why Elizabeth and Calvin could get along so easily? If yes, why?
- As Elizabeth and Calvin confront various struggles, such as sexual assault and familial rejection, they must make wise decisions. When Elizabeth’s professor assaults her, she takes a courageous stand to speak up rather than stay silent; this leads other students to open up about their own experiences. Similarly, when Calvin discovers his adoption background, he decides to be honest with Elizabeth instead of keeping it hidden from her.
Do you think such consequences of struggles are what make us much more well-rounded and enlightened individuals? Why or why not?
- The significance of Elizabeth stabbing her advisor with a pencil symbolizes her standing up for herself against a man who had violated her physically and emotionally and taken away her chance at achieving higher education, making her feel powerless.
Was this really necessary for her to do? Could she have chosen another way to deal with the situation and still make a strong stand against injustice? Why do you think she did not go to the higher authority or contact the police?
- After Calvin’s death, Elizabeth decided to fill her days with work and rowing. Soon enough, people from Hastings were the first customers for her in-house consultations. This way of life quickly became the source of income for Elizabeth. I find this particularly encouraging since Elizabeth did not give up in spite of losing the love of his life. Instead, she was able to turn things around and make a name for herself.
What do you think are the key factors that enabled Elizabeth’s success in this manner?
- Donatti had the audacity to deceive a wealthy investor into believing Elizabeth was a man, “Mr. Zott”, with hopes of reallocating the capital meant for her research in abiogenesis. This was particularly distasteful considering the amount of hard work Elizabeth had put into her research.
How would you have reacted when you find out about what happened?
- How important a role, according to you, did Harriet Sloane play as Elizabeth’s neighbor? Do you think neighbors should be as helpful in one’s life as Harriet was in Elizabeth’s?
- Elizabeth and Calvin adopt an unusually perceptive and intelligent dog, whom they name Six-Thirty. So, here’s a funny question. When you heard the name “Six-Thirty”, did you laugh out loud because I did?
Moreover, was the name a sign of the extreme intelligence that both Elizabeth and Calvin possessed?
- Elizabeth made the bold decision to leave Hastings after Dr. Boreywitz unlawfully took credit for her abiogenesis research and published it as his own.
How do you think Elizabeth managed to stay so level-headed and determined in her pursuit, despite the odds seemingly being against her?
- When Elizabeth is asked to appear on Walter’s TV show, his boss, Phil Lebensmal, instructs Walter to make her look “sexy” for TV. However, Elizabeth rejects every single wardrobe option and opts to include scientific instruction and information throughout her demonstrations on the show, which does not please Lebensmal.
Does this moment feel empowering to you?
- Franklin Roth’s article portraying Elizabeth as an attractive and unaccomplished woman is a sign that women during that time period were often portrayed as commodities because of their good looks.
Do you think such sexism still exists today in more subtle forms? Also, do you believe that the story of Elizabeth would have been different had she lived in an era where gender roles were not so defined?
- The book ends with Elizabeth returning to the place where she belonged. If we expect a sequel to the book “Lessons in Chemistry”, what are the new challenges and social taboos that Elizabeth might face?
How do you think Bonnie Garmus would approach this challenge?
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