Social Hierarchy {Book Club}

How’s it going with Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo? I cant’ wait for next week to talk about the book, but until then, this stuck out to me from chapter 11:

“Sunil turned and walked home, past the immense piling of the elevated expressway being constructed in the middle of Airport Road, past a line of signs GVK had planted that said WE CARE WE CARE WE CARE, past the long wall advertising floor tiles that stay beautiful forever He felt small and sad and useless. Who had done such a thing to his friend? But the fog of shock and grief didn’t fully obscure his understanding of the social hierarchy in which he lived. To Annawadi boys, Kalu had been a star. To the authorities of the overcity, he was a nuisance case to be dispensed with. “

Oh the social hierarchies. I’d imagine you’ve felt the similar tensions to me. Gratitude for the privileges I have, guilt over the same privileges, frustration at systems I can’t influence (and truth be told, can’t fully understand either). What are some of the social hierarchy situations where you live? Are they always overt? How do your local friends respond to them?

If you feel led, write a prayer for your city/context (if you don’t want to say where you are, that’s OK!).

Because this takes place in a community, it might be easy to get lost in all of the names. But have no fear! Wikipedia has a helpful list and brief description of people mentioned in the book. It might be helpful to print it out (or at least know you can refer to it!).

We’ll discuss the entire book next week.

Happy reading! Amy


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Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc


  1. Kimberly July 23, 2014

    Yes, the hierarchy screamed at me too. At the end, Katherine talks a bit about how those in slums blame each other and drag each other down. Is this the same as ‘misery loves company’? The tribal hierarchy in E. Africa has been key to our understanding and interaction. Those in younger generations always submit to their elders, even in greetings. I, as rich foreigner, would usually get lumped in with elders for level of respect. But as I got to know people it was so huge to be able to humble myself, even in greetings to those who really were my elders. At first some of them refused to acknowledge my bow, pushed me up and shook hands with me. But soon they enjoyed this ‘fitting’ into their hierarchy and ‘taking my place’ according to their rules. It deepened our relationships on several levels.

    As for the hierarchy of wealth and corruption and oppression… I have nothing but prayers for that. Father God you could look at the proud man and make him low. We pray for your mercy on your servants living under the heavy strain of oppression and corruption. Give them strength to be faithful until we can all see true Justice!

    1. Shelly July 26, 2014

      Amen to your prayer, Kimberly.

      It has been a disturbing book for me. I don’t quite know what to do with it. I was stunned by the depth and breadth of corruption, even to the point of taking it out on one’s poor neighbors. (Except that those neighbors are not quite as poor as you, so it’s okay to take it out on them. Ugh!) My sense of justice was irked as the H family endured the crisis of their lives that never should have happened in the first place, and the supposed middle class (hard to say where the police and special agents fit in the economic caste system) squeezed practically everything from an already poor family because they felt justified in getting “their fair share” of a very small pot.

      I see this in some way where I live and work (E. Asia). Leaders (let’s say in a work unit) aren’t questioned about decisions even though everyone can see the ridiculousness of a new process being required. Or laws are applied by local authorities “as they see fit” to either benefit themselves or to make trouble for another local political entity. In this small battle, foreigners are sometimes the ammunition.  For example, a program gets blocked by “police” even though the North Americans were approved by and operate under a local government entity. What’s the power play going on there?

  2. Danielle Wheeler July 23, 2014

    The book made me think about a belief that is firmly engrained in America, at least upper and middle class America – the belief that if a person will work hard enough he can succeed.  On a subconscious level this belief has existed to some degree even in my own mind.  If this book isn’t enough to shatter that belief, I don’t know what is.  The frightening conclusion of the belief is that those that are in poverty simply aren’t working hard enough, and therefore on some level deserve their poverty.  And the flip side then is that we deserve our “wealth.”  Gah!

  3. Whitney @ Journey Mercies July 28, 2014

    I just finished the book last night! This month I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get at it, but this past week, it just sucked me in.


    Living in Cambodia, we see overt corruption in every level of society – although not to the extremes as the slum dwellers deal with in India. I just laughed out loud in shock at some of the things people did – and honestly, I thought to myself, I don’t know if I could work in a place like that. I have a hard enough time in Cambodia with certain things – especially as a nurse, seeing the corruption of the medical care here just destroys me.

    My husband and I often joke that the country here functions as a “bribe-ocracy” – and our Cambodian friends agree. It’s just expected. And people here work so hard, only to have what little they do have stripped from them.

    And yes, it’s the same here – people in authority aren’t allowed to be questioned. Patients are afraid to ask doctors any questions, even if it’s just to clarify things, because it’s seen as threatening to the doctor, and he can refuse to treat them further. It can be so difficult to navigate a social hierarchy I don’t understand and often don’t agree with!

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