Skip to main content Skip to main content

Invitation to World Literature

The Tale of Genji The Tale of Genji – Key Points

Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts


  1. If you had to choose the two most important female characters, whom would you choose, and why?
  2. What is Murasaki’s great virtue? Why is she the perfect woman? Do you approve of the criteria for female perfection given in the book?
  3. Is Lady Kokiken a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  4. How does Genji remain a sympathetic character, to those around him, to the author, and to the reader?

Plot Actions

  1. How does the Rokujo Lady attack her rivals?
  2. How would you rate Genji’s treatment of Murasaki, from the time he meets her until her death?
  3. Why does Genji end up raising the Rokujo Lady’s daughter?
  4. What really kills Murasaki?
  5. What are the stages of Genji’s rise at court? How does he recover following his banishment?


  1. Why does Genji marry Nyosan? Why does it go wrong? How are Genji and Nyosan both guilty of the failure of their marriage?
  2. How do the circumstances of Genji’s birth impact his actions throughout his life?
  3. Does Genji change during his self-imposed exile? If so, how? If not, why not?
  4. Why does Lady Kokiken hate Genji? What are the obvious, practical reasons, and what are the emotional reasons?
  5. Why do you think Genji seduces women when it can lead to no good? What drives him?

Discussion Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

  1. What do you think is the purpose of using titles instead of names in all but the most intimate of circumstances? What does it say about the society in the book? How would your perception of people, relationships, and life change if our society were to use titles instead of names?
  2. What purpose do the many, many levels of rank serve in this society? It would seem that so many levels of rank would render them all pretty meaningless, but this is not the case in Genji. Why?
  3. How would you describe the humor in Genji? Is humor an important quality in this society? When does the author use humor, and how?
  4. How do you feel about the poetry in the novel? Does it engage you in the story, give information in a different way, or does it distract you as a modern reader who does not expect a novel to include poetry?
  5. Would you say Murasaki’s decision not to express her grief and jealousy over Nyosan was the right one, in the context and world of the story? Would you ever take the same type of action?

Series Directory

Invitation to World Literature


Produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation with Seftel Productions. 2010.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-892-0