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John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is not a play about the relative merits of child molesting or kindness but about that terrible feeling that one does not know the right course. The two main characters, Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, are each

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Introduction

Dan Fernandes Literary Analysis of "Doubt" 3/17/2011 ENG 105 INTRO "Doubt" is not a play about the relative merits of child molesting or kindness but about that terrible feeling that one does not know the right course. The two main characters, Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, are each insulated, wrapped so deeply in their own self-assurance that they cannot relate to the world outside of themselves. They each feed off the self-righteousness of the other to nourish the righteousness of their own causes, unable, owing largely to surrounding circumstances, to see things in a larger context. Father Flynn uses the self-contained world of the parish to parallel the self-assured world of his mind. Father Flynn's use of sermons to express his own thoughts, feelings and ideas by telling stories with other characters, and never himself. Sister James even comments on his frequent use of made-up stories for his sermons, which indicates talent and imagination but does not suggest any sort of personal history that he would care to recall. Father Flynn gives a sermon that includes a story about a man in a boat, lost at sea and with no stars to guide him; Sister Aloysius later implies that this is a sign that he himself has some secret that would prompt a feeling of despair. When he is addressing his basketball class, he tells them a story about a boy with whom he went to school, a boy who did not wash his hands properly and caught spinal meningitis and died. ...read more.

Middle

Perhaps he really does believe that his sexual relations with children are based in love, but, at some level at least, he knows that there is nowhere but the Church where such behavior would be protected. His past is within the Church, his future is within the Church, and in neither past nor future does his behavior earn him the sort of punishment that it would in the real world. Father Flynn is a caring man who tries to break down the social barriers that separate him from the boys in his class. His compassion is conscious, a trait that he actively pursues, believing that it is more important for the boys to feel loved than it is for them to be pressured by rules. In particular, he makes a point of giving extra attention to Donald Muller because he feels that the boy can use a friend, given his circumstances. His extraordinary friendship with the boy is suspicious, if not inappropriate. Even if he is not, as Sister Aloysius assumes, sexually involved with the boy, Father Flynn's desire to ignore common social boundaries puts him in a position that threatens his career. By traditional dramatic standards, his need for acceptance can be seen as a tragic flaw in that it is a character trait that leads to his downfall. Compassion is not generally viewed as a flaw. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Father Flynn offers reasonable explanations for his behavior, she persists. He believes that her personal dislike for his teaching style may be strengthening her sense of certainty. She is even willing to threaten trouble for the boy, who presumably is the victim in this case. She shows no sense of uncertainty until the play's last line, when she admits to having doubts. There are two characters in Doubt who are used to represent vulnerability. The first and most obvious is Donald Muller, the student who is suspected of having been sexually abused. Donald has recently transferred from another school and is the first black student to attend St. Nicholas. When she hears that Father Flynn has established himself as a "protector" to Donald, Sister Aloysius immediately assumes that his motive is to take advantage of him. "He's isolated," she explains to Sister James. "The little sheep lagging behind is the one the wolf goes for." While the teachers who advocate compassion-Sister James and Father Flynn-see Donald's vulnerability as a responsibility, Sister Aloysius has no doubt that an unscrupulous predator will take advantage of any weakness. Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, each hold staunchly to their views of the world and are unwilling to see things as others do: this unwillingness to yield is both a strength and a weakness and leads to the final tragic conclusion. The other two characters, Sister James and Mrs. Muller, are racked with doubt, areb able to see both sides of their dilemma. ...read more.

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