The church remains to be one of the most powerful and influential social system which affects our day to day living. As such, controversies involving church authorities have always attracted utmost social attention. Such issues are even incorporated in many literary works. One of the most esteemed literary pieces tackling church-related controversies is John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt”, a play which yielded the Pulitzer Prize. Basically, the play presents the depressingly typical scenario of pedophile priests.
However, although the story tackles an abuse scandal involving a church authority, it is important to note that the plot does not indulge in exposing amoral activities within the respected institution. Rather, it diverges from its particular plot by exploring a range of interrelated dilemmas faced by the Catholic Church. Analyzing the various themes that were vaguely discussed in the play’s plot through smart dialogues and characterizations, Doubt appears to be more than just a formula-based story mimicking a real event derived from the newspapers.
On the whole, the play is more of a twisted portrayal of the hierarchy, male dominance, and conservatism that embraces the practices of the Catholic Church. Battle between the sexes and male dominance In the play, Sister Aloysius, the principal of the grade school suspects that Father Flynn has molested the first and only black student of the school. Examining these two major characters presented in the story, Doubt somehow becomes a picture of a battle between the sexes, within the grounds of the Catholic Church.
Being the head of the school, Sister Aloysius supposedly has absolute power over her territory. As the principal, she is in charge of maintaining order within the school and protecting the children from harm so she is also entitled of subjecting the teachers to disciplinary actions whenever she deems fitting. However, in Father Flynn’s case, everything takes a different turn. Suspecting that something is wrong with Father Flynn’s actions, the principal does not directly call on the priest or immediately report him to a superior for questioning and punishment.
Rather, Sister Aloysius chooses to confide to Sister James and narrates a somewhat similar experience that she has encountered before. “Eight years ago at St. Boniface we had a priest who had to be stopped. But I had Monsignor Scully then who I could rely on,” the principal notes, stressing her need for a male ally. She further states that the situation with Father Flynn is quite different because “there is no man” that they can go to and that “men run everything”.
At the end of their conversation, Sister Aloysius suggests that it is up to them to stop the peculiar Father. This proposition, along with the apparent cry for help from the naive nun and the student’s mother, only suggests that Sister Aloysius recognizes that the Church is a patriarchal system and that there is a need for women to unite and work together in order to expose a priest’s wrongdoing. During the confrontation of Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, it is also obvious that the priest recognizes the male dominance within the church.
When the principal tells him that she has sought the assistance of other parishes that the priest has served before, the fuming father states that despite the authority she holds over the school, she is still a member of the religious order, so she should be obedient to her superiors – who were men, of course. As anticipated, the priest brings himself to an untouchable position, between Sister Aloysius and the Monsignor, simply using his gender as the basis for the claimed authority.
Furthermore, the end result of the confrontation – the transfer of Father Flynn to another parish, and his promotion as a parish priest only proves that the fear of Sister Aloysius and the haughtiness of the priest in question are well-substantiated. A Conservative Church vs. the Liberal Ways Based on the idea that the church is patriarchal and that male superiors often turn a blind eye to the wrong doing of priests, it somehow appears that Sister Aloysius is the protagonist and that Father Flynn is the unobvious antagonist.
However, taking into account the conservative versus liberal scenario also embodied by the two major characters, it seems that there is more to the story than an outcry against a patriarchal system. In the play, it is clear that Sister Aloysius is the embodiment of the traditional and conservative church. She represents the old ways – inflexible, definite, and authoritarian. She is not fond of those who, like Father Flynn, attempt to be different and applies their distinctiveness in the way they preach and interact with the parishioners.
In stark contrast with the nun’s character is the witty and playful Father Flynn who is fond of hugging his students, making jokes, and ultimately working against the principal’s idea that moral authority suggests social isolation. Assessing the clash between the two in relation to their symbolizations of the traditional versus the liberal, it seems that the principal’s suspicions are largely a product of her attempt to restore order in her Catholic school. It may be that Sister Aloysius’ qualms are just manifestations of her anger and fear against the threat that is Father Flynn, nothing more.
Conclusions: Doubts…. And more doubts Apart from the question of whether Father Flynn was really a child predator, the play raises many other doubts about the Catholic Church. It engages the audiences in the dilemma if they should struggle for a social structure that is impartial and unprejudiced to a certain gender. Also, the play explores the idea of whether the church should maintain the old ways, or they should just go with the flow of modernity and adopt liberal methods of preaching and relating to their parishioners.
Overall, the play also touches on power play within the system, with regards to the maintenance of long practiced values like social isolation and patriarchy. Thus, it is safe to conclude that analyzing the characters and dialogues within the play, themes in the story only show that Doubt is also about church scandals, but only to the least degree. As noted by Shanley in a feature article for the Huffington Post, he “wasn’t interested particularly in writing about the church scandals” nor did he had the interest to write mystery novels.
True to his purpose, Doubt exists to make people realize that they are indeed living in a world that’s full of doubts – doubts that are ever present even within the church that they lean upon for certainty and deliverance. Works Cited Falsini, Cathleen. “Beyond The Shadow of a Doubt. ” Huffington Post. 2003. 24 July 2009. < http://www. huffingtonpost. com/cathleen-falsani/beyond-the-shadow-of-a-do_b_150496. html> Shanley, John Patrick. “Doubt”
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