Saturday, October 03, 2009

Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley

Shanley, John Patrick. Doubt, a parable. New York: Theater Communications Group, 2005.
by Susana Cook.

“Life happens when the tectonic power of your speechless soul breaks through the dead habits of the mind. Doubt is nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the present”. (viii) In the preface, the author prepares us for his statement about doubt. We “may come out of the play uncertain”, he says. He is asking us to look down on that feeling, and then the play starts. Father Flynn talks about doubt in his first sermon, as Dough Wright does in the preface. Right away we associate the priest with the author-- they think the same way. Sister Aloysius on the other hand appears as a very unkind, uptight, almost malicious person-- enamored with rigid discipline. She hates ballpoint pens, art and music classes, and history. She shows no compassion-- she is mean when she talks about a piano teacher who has a goiter. We know right away that we are not supposed to like her-- she is obnoxious. She is the person who will try to unveil the truth—whether or not Father Flynn had sexually abused Donald Muller, a new boy in the class. Sister James is a younger, kinder teacher who appears as the opposite of Sister Aloysius, and she is the first one to notice that the boy came back disturbed and smelling of alcohol after a meeting with Father Flynn.
What Wright might be proposing is that we should question the moral certainty that condemns man-boy love. The arguments given by NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Association), to justify their actions are similar to some of Father Flynn’s statements: “There’s nothing wrong with love.” (41). In the context of this play, and especially at this particular moment, this statement carries a very strong message.
Sister Aloysius invites Mrs. Muller, the boy’s mother, to talk to her about her suspicion that Father Flynn might be taking advantage of her son. This is the part that I found most surprising and disturbing. The mother seems to be okay with the idea of the boy having an intimate relationship with the priest as long as he graduates from the school. She insinuates that the boy is gay—and that seems to justify the abuse from the priest. “It might be a good thing for him.” “And he’s got your son.” Says Sister Aloysius to her. “Let him have’im then,” responds Mrs. Muller. She then adds: “Maybe some of them boys want to get caught. Maybe what you don’t know maybe is my son is…that way.” (48). It seems as if the mother is justifying rape or child abuse if the kid is gay. The friendship he has with the priest seems to be good--the “only thing he had”. He is the only black boy in the school and he is gay.
The play ends with Sister Aloysius doubting. Father Flynn resigns and he receives a promotion. He is now the pastor in a different school and “Donald Muller is heartbroken that he is gone” (57). Sister Aloysius doubts at the end of the play don’t make sense to me. She suddenly appears vulnerable, weak, and emotional. She is opening her heart to Sister James. She doesn’t doubt that Father Flynn abused the boy—she says herself “his resignation was his confession. He was what I thought he was”. Sister Aloysius tells Sister James. So what are her doubts about then? The last scene of the play implies that Sister Aloysius was transformed by this experience and she becomes more “human”. So now she has doubts—even though she condemns doubts at the beginning of the play.
What is she doubting? Her faith? The church hierarchy? Her life? I believe that the play implies that now she doubts that maybe it was a good thing for the boy his relationship with Father Flynn after all.