Similar to Sister James I was left in doubt throughout the story regarding what was true and what was not. One aspect of the story that did not leave me in doubt was the juxtaposition of the very different philosophies of Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. One the far end of rigid sternness was Sister Aloysius with her dislike of anything new or changing and who felt the children should be dealt with stern rigid methods. On the complete opposite side was Father Flynn who felt the children should be related to with kindness and love and favored progression to transform the school. Even within the structured religious institution there was the classic dichotomy between black and white, light and dark, good and bad; although there is doubt about which character reflects which aspect, for most of the story I felt Sister Aloysius represented the black and Father Flynn the white. Through their conversations and actions the two waged a war of words and wills which left Sister James caught in the crossfire wherein she subsequently lost her innocence and was possibly the biggest victim of all.
Although she was perceived as ignorant by Sister Aloysius I feel Sister James simply had a new and progressive attitude towards the education of her students. Sister Aloysius quickly cut through her ideals on how she should teach and be regarded by students in favor of her own stern methods and approach while subsequently igniting the flame of doubt within Sister James. It is the doubt that quickly corrupts Sister James changing how she views herself and the world around her. She goes from perceiving the world from an optimistic and happy place to that of pessimistic and paranoid which she says makes her “feel as if I’m less close to God”. It struck me as highly unbecoming of anyone ordained as a nun to cause another sister to stray away from God and Sister Aloysius’s excuse of “In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God” was weak at best. She seems to have had it out for Father Flynn from the beginning and done everything she could to get rid of him and even though she did the problem (if there was one) simply moved locations. Her actions can be easily justifiable only if her suspicions were correct and as the truth is never revealed the reader is left in doubt.
I feel there is a lot of meaning in the title and that the story would hold a different meaning if it were simply titled “Doubt”. Adding the words “A
Parable” change my perceptions and connotations about the underlying themes and messages of the work. Regarding parables while talking with Sister James Father Flynn says “You make up little stories to illustrate. In the tradition of the parable”, and later “What actually happens in life is beyond interpretation. The truth makes for a bad sermon. It tends to be confusing and have no clear conclusion”. In this play we never get at the truth and we never see or learn what really happened, all we have is the story that illustrates a point; in this case doubt. Father Flynn’s message of doubt and of the story were revealed in the first act in his sermon: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone”. Sister James is the only character in the play that experiences profound doubt which may have lead her away from God or it may have created the strong bond and connection Father Flynn spoke of. Either way I am still left in quite a bit of doubt.
Courtney from Study Moose