Skip to main content

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Sister Noon

1. In the Prelude, "Mrs. Smith" says that "life is loss." What do you think she means by this? Is she speaking about more than the death of her husband, who she might never have really loved? How does your opinion of this character and her statement change once you discover her "real" identity as Mary Ellen Pleasant?

2. Who and what does Mary Ellen Pleasant represent in the novel?

3. How would you describe Pleasant’s relationship with Lizzie?

4. Lizzie is described as "short, dusty, fat as a toad." How does the inner Lizzie differ from the outer woman? How does Lizzie fit into the world around her?

5. "An easy person to underestimate," Lizzie is also fiercely protective of the children in her care and single-minded of purpose once she decides to take action. How does Mrs. Pleasant become the catalyst for Lizzie’s transformation?

6. How does Lizzie respond to the news about Jenny’s true parentage? Is her reaction indicative of the "old" or "new" Lizzie?

7. Throughout the book, Teresa Bell remains a shadowy, ethereal character. And yet she plays a crucial role in the narrative’s unfolding. What does she symbolize in the book?

8. Lizzie has an epiphany of sorts in her scene with Mr. Finney on page 317? Has she at last become the liberated woman she always dreamed of becoming but never believed she actually would? How do her behavior and actions change after this "perfect day she would always remember?"

9. What is the significance of the séance wherein Lizzie gets to finally tell off her dead mother? Is this part of her "liberation?"

10. How does Lizzie feel about children? She is the caretaker and nurturer of many, yet has none of her own. On page 125 we learn that Lizzie "didn’t like children particularly, but they went to her heart." And on page 244, she muses that "all children are precious to God." How does her behavior bear this out? Does her attitude toward them change during the course of the story? How does her discovery about Jenny affect these feelings?

11. What is the significance of "Sister Noon" and Sister Night?" Which is Lizzie, and why?

12. What role does Ti Wong play in the story? How does he change after his near-fatal bout with diphtheria?

13. In the prelude to the Prelude, Mary Ellen Pleasant is quoted as saying, "Words were invented so that lies could be told." Why do you think she uses the word "lies" and not "stories," which has a far less negative and precise connotation? Is this what she believes her entire life to be, one brilliant invention after another?

Sister Noon
by Karen Joy Fowler

  • Publication Date: May 28, 2002
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452283280
  • ISBN-13: 9780452283282