- In the novel, civil war has decimated the economy and morale of the country. How has history repeated itself since the 1100s? People like Aliena and Prior Philip fight to bring about a change. What other figures in history can you think of who have fought to repair the destruction of war?
- For a man so terrified of hell, why do you think William did not think to call for a priest during his mother's last moments? Was it out of self-centeredness? A lack of faith? Why, of all places, would William choose to visit Kingsbridge Cathedral in the days after his mother's death?
- When Aliena sees Elizabeth, she sees the life she escaped by refusing to marry William when she was a girl. Have you ever made a decision that completely changed the path of your life? Have you ever been in the position to help someone else avoid an undesirable fate?
- Why does Philip take the builders' strike so personally? How does his reaction make the situation worse? If you were a mason in the situation, would you have stayed at Kingsbridge or left for Shiring?
- Ellen appears quite a bit in Part Five. In which ways does she function as both an outlaw and a member of the Kingsbridge community? What attracts her to this dual existence? Does she truly fit in either world?
- When Jonathan asks Philip about his parents, he asks why God drives people to desperate acts like abandoning a child. Philip replies: "Once you start asking that question, you can end up in confusion. But in this case I think the answer is clear. God wanted you for himself" (p. 825). Do you think it was God, or Philip, who wanted Jonathan?
- Describe the relationship between Philip and Francis. Do they act like true brothers, or more like political conspirators? Is Francis more loyal to the church, or to the ruler he is working for at the time? How does each brother use his role in the church to further his own interests?
- After Richard is made Earl of Shiring, Aliena tells her father she must now go live in peace. What keeps her from finding the peace she seeks? How does she react when things stand in her way now, as opposed to before her promise to her father was fulfilled?
- Why does Philip forgive Remigius? Is allowing this traitor back in the monastery a dangerous move?
- From ruling a kingdom to overseeing the building of a cathedral to running a monastery, the question of who will lead is asked constantly throughout The Pillars of the Earth. Which of the characters do you think are the strongest leaders? The weakest?
Part 5 plot points
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6
More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.