Step into the glitzy world of 1930s New York society, where class struggles, love, and personal transformations intertwine to create Amor Towles’ masterpiece “Rules of Civility.”
Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this book follows the lives of two ambitious women, Katey and Evelyn, as they navigate their way up the social ladder among the elite in New York society.
Their chance encounter with a handsome banker sets off a series of events that propels them on a year-long journey, filled with wit, nerve, love, betrayal, and choices that will determine their destiny and change the course of their lives.
With its sparkling portrayal of New York’s social hierarchy, intriguing themes, and captivating characters, this work of literature is a must-read novel that has earned critical acclaim and a place in the hearts of readers worldwide.
In this discussion guide, we will have a look at some amazing book club questions for Rules of Civility that will not only help you delve deeper into the story but also ignite engaging conversations and insightful reflections among your fellow bibliophiles.
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Rules of Civility Book Club Questions
- The setting of New York influences the characters by highlighting the stark divide between the wealthy and the impoverished, forcing them to confront the challenges of survival in a city where everyone aims to establish themselves as an elite. The hardships of the era shape their resilience, ambition, and determination to navigate through the constraints of their circumstances.
What’s your take on the way Amor Towles has used this setting of New York during the Great Depression, serving as a backdrop of economic struggle and social uncertainty?
- The ability to adapt to a certain social class plays a significant role in the novel, as the characters strive to climb the social ladder and gain access to higher echelons of society. Katey and Evelyn, coming from modest backgrounds, try to integrate themselves into the world of the elite. Their interactions with the wealthy and the sheer observation power of their lifestyles provide a deep commentary on the privileges and constraints associated with different social classes.
What’s your take on the way the characters have navigated the social hierarchy in the novel?
- Coming to social hierarchy, Katey, Evelyn, and Tinker grapple with their identities and aspirations in a society that often defines individuals based on their social standing. Their choices, relationships, and the way they present themselves to the world reflect their attempts to shape and redefine their identities in pursuit of personal and societal validation.
In the midst of all these, somewhere down the line, they actually lost their true identities. Do you think so?
- The characters’ romantic relationships are complex and often marked by deceit, unrequited love, and emotional turmoil. Tinker’s guilt over the accident leads him to prioritize his loyalty to Eve, which ultimately affects his relationship with Katey.
Discuss how these themes explore the vulnerability and pain that can arise when personal desires clash with loyalty and the expectations of societal norms.
- Katey’s friendship with Evelyn forms a strong bond as they support and motivate each other when times get tough. However, as Katey ascends socially, she starts forming new friendships with individuals from privileged backgrounds.
Discuss how these friendships offer insights into her adaptability and the changing dynamics of her relationships as she climbs the social ladder of the high-and-mighty.
- The accident involving Eve has a profound impact on the dynamics and relationships between the three. Eve’s disfigurement creates a sense of guilt in Tinker, prompting him to stay by her side and abandon any romantic possibilities with Katey. This event marks a turning point in the narrative, altering the course of the character’s lives and their relationships with one another. This also creates a sense of tension and conflict as Katey grapples with her own feelings for Tinker while trying to support Eve through her recovery.
All it takes is one second to change the course of our lives, just as in the case of Eve. Don’t you think so?
- Wallace and Anne are in sharp contrast to each other. Wallace, despite his wealth, maintains a down-to-earth nature and eschews extravagance. His preference for simpler things and genuine connections with people, regardless of social status, sets him apart from other wealthy individuals. Anne, on the other hand, embodies the entitlement and manipulation often associated with generational wealth. Her intelligence and wit serve as a foil to Katey, showcasing different approaches to navigating the social landscape amidst a bit of chaos.
Discuss this contrast between the two characters based on the wealth, social events, and the motivations behind human interactions.
- The photo of Tinker on Wallace’s wall, where he appears twice due to his movement during the exposure, symbolizes the idea that people are not always who they appear to be. The double image of Tinker mirrors the two versions of his character depicted in the museum photos from 1938 and 1939. It reinforces the notion that individuals have multifaceted identities and can undergo significant transformations over time.
Discuss how this motif of appearances versus reality adds depth to the narrative’s exploration of personal growth and the complexity of human nature.
- Katey’s daily experiences expose her to the diverse melting pot of the city, where immigrants from various backgrounds struggle to maintain their autonomy while blending into the larger society. The narrative emphasizes the shared experiences of different ethnicities, including blacks, Russians, and Italians, highlighting that their stories, hopes, and dreams are equally valid and relevant.
Did this make you but notice that multiculturalism is a prevalent theme in the novel? What’s your take on the way it’s explored?
- The concept of “the rules of civility” serves as a guiding principle behind actions and decisions made by the characters of the story. It represents the social codes and etiquette expected in their interactions with each other. Throughout the novel, characters often grapple with adhering to these rules while also facing personal desires and ambitions. The rules of civility shape their behavior, influencing their choices, relationships, and the image they project to society.
Do you agree with this deduction of the book title? If yes, discuss. If no, why?
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