Title: Doubt: A Parable.
Author: John Patrick Shanley.
Genre: Fiction, plays, religion, abuse.
Publication Date: 2004.
Summary: Set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, a strong-minded woman and principle of St. Nicholas school, Sister Aloysius, wrestles with conscience and uncertainty as she is faced with concerns about one of her male colleagues having an inappropriate relationship with one of the more vulnerable students.
My rating: 7.5/10.
My review: I liked this play a lot more than I expected to. It discusses an aspect of Christianity (and organized religion in general, really) that has always appalled and disgusted me, and I am not always able separate my preconceptions or disgust with the subject from the story. First and foremost, I was very taken with Sister Aloysius. The strength and conviction of her character can only be admired, especially when put in the context of the Church hierarchy - the fact that she is the principle of the school, and thus presumably its highest authority, still doesn't change that within the chain of command she falls below the male members of the clergy, whom she is forced to take on. In a very, very short play, Shanley hints and fills out many aspects of her character that are as unexpected as they are paradoxical. I love that I can recognize I would have likely disliked her character and her approach to educating children if her viciousness didn't extend in caring for the children's well-being, as well. It s clear that the Church, her position, and her religion in general means an enormous deal to Sister Aloysius, not to mention her principles and beliefs about it seem to be set in stone, but when she is faced with turning her back on Christianity in order to be a good Christian, she is willing to do so without a second thought. I have always thought that religion was a beautiful thing at its roots - it's people's organization and application of any religion that seems to go really awry really fast, so I found this novel incredibly gratifying. This is the kind of writing I find refreshing in religious fiction - the writing that probes, and questions, and challenges, from the inside. It is so common to find, both in fiction and non-fiction, atheist (and often quite anti-theist) authors take pretty definite and direct stance against aspects of religions, or religions as a whole. But it's more compelling to see people who believe and live the religious life face and work out incongruities and pit-holes within it. I also loved the fact that the play lived up so famously to its name. Doubt is everything in this novel. You're not ultimately sure about Sister Aloysius, because though her values and intentions are pure, you get an aspect of her character that allows for error and prejudice. You doubt the main "antagonist," Flynn, because you are shown aspects of his character that seem beautiful and well-intentioned - the way he looks at the world allows for doubt that it may be misinterpreted. And even though there is a strong implication by the end of what has actually happened, you never really know, and the characters never really know, and that's an intriguing concept. And even though this is a very short play, through its main conflict the author manages to paint a vivid picture of society and its cultural and racial norms. In fact, the short conversation Sister Aloysius has with the mother of the alleged victim is absolutely shocking and heart-breaking. It's the one thing that probably will stay with me the most from this play - not the potential abuse of a child, but the fact that the child's mother considers it the lesser of two evils, because it's the only type of "kindness" and "favouritism" her son can hope for. It is absolutely devastating.
♥ FLYNN: I want to say to you: Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.
♥ SISTER ALOYSIUS: These three students with the highest marks. Are they the most intelligent children in your class?
SISTER JAMES: No, I wouldn't say they are. But they work the hardest.
SISTER ALOYSIUS: Very good! That's right! That's the ethic. What good's a gift if it's left in the box? What good is a high IQ if you're staring out the window with your mouth agape? Be hard on the bright ones, Sister James. Don't be charmed by cleverness. Not theirs. And not yours. I think you are a competent teacher, Sister James, but maybe not our best teacher. The beast teachers do not perform, they cause the students to perform.
♥ SISTER ALOYSIUS: Look at you. You'd trade anything for a warm look. I'm telling you here and now, I want to see the starch in your character cultivated. If you are looking for reassurance, you can be fooled. If you forget yourself and study others, you will not be fooled. It's important.
♥ SISTER ALOYSIUS: The founder of our order, The Blessed Mother Seton, was married and had five children before embarking on her vows.
SISTER JAMES: I've often wondered how she managed so much in one life.
SISTER ALOYSIUS: Life perhaps is longer than you think and the dictates of the soul more numerous.
♥ SISTER JAMES: But it's so unsettling to look at things and people with suspicion. It feels as if I'm less close to God.
SISTER ALOYSIUS: When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God, but in His service. Dealing with such matters is hard and thankless work.
♥ SISTER ALOYSIUS: If I could, Sister James, I would certainly choose to live in innocence. But innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil. Situations arise and we are confronted with wrongdoing and the need to act.
♥ SISTER JAMES: Well. What a relief! He cleared it all up.
SISTER ALOYSIUS: You believe him?
SISTER JAMES: Of course.
SISTER ALOYSIUS: Isn't it more that it's easier to believe him?
SISTER JAMES: But we can corroborate his story with Mr. McGinn!
SISTER ALOYSIUS: Yes. These types of people are clever. They're not so easily undone.
SISTER JAMES: Well, I'm convinced!
SISTER ALOYSIUS: You're not. You just want things to be resolved so you can have simplicity back.
♥ SISTER JAMES: Did you make up that story about the pillow?
FLYNN: Yes. You make up little stories to illustrate. In the tradition of the parable.
SISTER JAMES: Aren't the things that actually happen in life more worthy of interpretation than a made-up story?
FLYNN: No. 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.
♥ FLYNN: There are people who go after your humanity, Sister James, who tell you the light in your heart is a weakness. That your soft feelings betray you. I don't believe that. It's an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue. Don't believe it. There's nothing wrong with love.
♥ FLYNN: You have no right to act on your own! You are a member of a religious order. You have taken vows, obedience being one! You answer to us! You have no right to step outside the Church!
SISTER ALOYSIUS: I will step outside the Church if that's what needs to be done, though the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, Father, if it means I'm damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me.