Blessed be Illéa, the wondrous country that emerged from the ashes of its history and brought its citizens peace and most importantly: The Selection.
Who will the prince choose, from the assortment of beautiful women laid before him, and is there something we’re missing in the shimmering palace with its dances and luxuries?
Today, we will look at the lore of the novels and discuss a vital part that lurks in the background but has utmost significance for many of the characters.
The cast system.
Before we begin, here is a premise on the plot for the ones who haven’t read the book yet! I do urge you guys to read it for yourself because it is a story that has a lot of interesting elements which will be discussed in this blogpost. This was your mild spoiler warning!
The pentalogy “The Selection” was published by Kierra Cass in april 2012 and has had its last publication (except for the side stories) with “The Crown” in 2016. The story begins with the idealistic young woman America who lives with her family in a dire financial situation until she gets the opportunity to get ‘selected’ for the casting that will determine the young prince Maxons’ new wife.
The plot alone established a lot of interesting themes of dystopian writing that were overlooked, and with the world that was built by Cass we find many details that we can look into more thoroughly.
What happens when your fate lies in the hands of a system that you can’t change?
As we narrow down our lense now, let us begin with the first question.
Nowadays, castes do not really exist anymore. But to make a distinctive analysis of the caste system in this book, we need to first find out what a caste is and what such a system entails.
Castes are a form of social categorization, meaning that a certain group of people, often the population of a country, will be split into groups that are set by certain criteria. These criteria can be determined by birth, race, occupation or even regional distinction, but there are many more ways to divide a society.
If we look at an often used example, we will find the caste system of India that has been historically built and left its traces until today. This only goes to show that such a system, even after being abolished, is hard to erase out of people’s minds.
Why is that so?
A caste is something that works as a label for every person. Since no perfect definition for castes exists, because the system can change depending on the criteria it is built upon, we are going to stay with the system that is shown in the selection and explain further through that example.
In the case of Cass’ novel, a caste is something you are born with. Castes are a label that is ingrained in people’s mind and inherently structures not only their identities but also their livelihood, job chances and socio-economic footing.
Everything you are as a person will have some sort of tie to your caste in Illéa. Even if you do not wish to think of it, it will follow you wherever you go as it is not only a mental note in people’s head but a set categorization that is supported and mandated by the government. It is not a choice, but a stamp that one can’t get rid of.
It tells every person where they belong, in what tier of the hierarchy they fall into, and which dreams they can afford to have.
In the Selection, your caste is a number which determines how you will live.
Illéa, the country in which Selection plays, has split its citizens into a caste system ranging from number 1 to 8 with One being the highest and Eight the lowest in the societal hierarchy.
Ones: The highest of the high, would in this instance be the entirety of the royal family and all clerics. Which renders Illéa not only an absolute monarchy but it also believes priests to be on the same level as the royals. If the royal regent gives a religious constitution the highest rank, it is most likely to ‘swear in’ regents by religious standards or to give them the mark of “holiness”.
Twos: This caste is predominantly made out of very popular individuals that cater mostly to the entertainment of the rest of the country. Celebrities such as models, singers, dancers but also all of the enlisted military and public service. Although we are standing one caste under the royal family, the value of entertainment is very high and these people are shown to have a very luxurious lifestyle.
Threes: Threes encompass all academically driven employment. Focusing on jobs that have high educational value and also further scientific and technological advancement such as engineers, nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists and professors. This also goes for the “white collar” businessmen who have high stakes jobs such as CEOs. Even writers and publishers are part of this category.
Fours: As we go further down the ladder of the hierarchy with the Fours we are at the middle of the system. They represent the stability that we would call “middle class” in our society and Fours are the caste with the most diverse employment capabilities. Farmers, office and industrial workers, headchefs, property owners and lawyers for example are a Fours’ element. With these jobs having not many things in common but mostly being average paying jobs they exemplify the worker class.
Fives: America Singer is a Five, and her name already says alot about her stand in the world. Fives exist to entertain and create art. They can be musicians like singers or paint and sculpt, but what distincts them from Twos is their image – Fives are supposed to stay hidden and take on the role of fading into the background. Their job is also very unstable and can depend on seasons, which makes most Fives economically challenged.
Sixes: The caste number turns from blessing to curse as we go down, and a Sixes’ role is to ‘receive work’. In whatever department they work in, they are treated as lower and lesser than others, assuming they will work silently and obediently. A Six can range from a secretary to service personnel in the palace. Being a Six is hard, it requires resilience and often enough turning down a job is seen as impossible. More often than not, from this caste onwards getting hungry and staying warm starts to become the biggest problem.
Sevens: Similar to Sixes they are workers, but less refined in the eyes of society and only there to work hard labor. A Seven is invisible, never seen or heard and takes on the jobs that are needed but not wanted. Construction, gardening, plumbing, cleaning and more.
Eights: This caste is the lowest of the low, and by means of the palace deemed the ‘untouchables’. Eights are homeless and shunned individuals who have no work and no home, they are often mentally or physically unable to work and therefore deemed Eights, or in worst case scenarios traitors to the royal family. They receive punishments as seemed fit and not wanted anywhere.
From this lineup alone, we can establish that the higher castes are what is valued in Illéa’s society, and the lowest what is regarded as scum on Earth even if needed.
Royalty, Religion and Entertainment are the highest priority of the government, with education and workers right behind them which only leave the disabled and ill behind.
Which only goes to show how different your life can pan out by the means of where you’re born or who you marry.
Interestingly enough, since the caste is modulated by the male head of the household, we find a distinction in this system that is worth looking at.
Your caste can in fact change.
If castes aren’t a set thing for your entire life, and especially for women can change after marriage or for men if enlisted in the military, or can be by buying the title with fame and money, another question emerges.
What is it that makes the caste system work then?
Well, if we look at the higher castes who live in lavish houses and have no worry financially, they get distracted and caught up in their own busy lives trying to follow the will of the royal family.
They are blessed when they compare themselves to lower castes and find that blessing when they look at a Six cleaning their home. As much as it might feel unjust and cruel in our eyes, we need to look at it from the lens of the Illéan people. Working according to your caste is normalized, and seen as an honor and service to the royal family. It is a clever tactic to divide the population, as the rivalry and distinction between them distracts from the actual problems that could arise.
Lower castes will have ingrained in their mind what their role entails, but can also harbour negative feelings towards higher castes.
It is the known “divide et impera” also known as “divide and rule” which plots the opposing group against each other by sharing different experiences and blaming each other for their miseries.
This behavior is taught from generation to generation, the low castes will see their parents work hard and have to work for their own families while seeing the higher ups enjoying life, and the higher castes will ignore and despise their counterparts as they are taught to believe they are better than them.
A cycle that continues on and on, as it only fuels the effectiveness of the castes.
But what does that result in at the end of the day?
We humans are inherently known for being individuals of high complexity. It’s always in our heads because we’re always told: everyone’s different!
This is true, because each and every person has their own set of expectations, hopes and dreams, different hobbies and lifestyles and for instance very different experiences.
We can share some of these things, which then become shared interests or experiences that make us develop the likelihood of understanding others, but being the exact same person is harder than one might think.
When we look at the people of ‘The Selection’ though, we find a phenomenon that changes this a little bit.
If the entire country is divided by a label, and your caste also determines where you work and how you’re seen in the world, chances are that many more people will come to have similar experiences.
A community will have its shared experiences and lifestyles which will not only provide a sense of belonging and identity, but they also limit individuality.
With less jobs a community can work, and a label to adorn themselves, provided with some exemptions of course, for example all Fives will feel the struggle of artists in their lives. America loves to sing and play instruments, and she would even take that job on if she was a Three. It is part of her identity and she was lucky to find interest in it.
What if one is born a Five but has no interest in art? That person would still need to provide for themselves and their family, but they would have to either learn how to play an instrument or how to paint.
Basically, the limitation gets higher the lower the caste and not just from an economical standpoint. It’s a tightly knit rope that goes hand in hand with the question of “who do I want to be” and “how do I survive?”
The caste system not only determines jobs, but also the entire life of a person and how it is valued by society.
When it comes to Identity, what do you think? Is it more restrictive to be told what you can work as? Or do you think there is merit in a guideline?
I hope to find some interesting discussions down below!
Until then, stay sharp!