“Doubt” Play by John Patrick Shanley Essay

April 16, 2022 by Essay Writer


The fact that Sister Aloysius, the principal of St. Nicholas church school, expresses uncertainty everywhere in the play raises questions. This concerns what she refers to as “having doubts” in her conversation with Sister James at the last act of the play “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley. It is hard to understand what she refers to as doubts at this point. She has been involved in a witch-hunt, which sees father Flynn, the priest recently posted at St. Nicholas school, request for reassignment to another parish. Having doubts depict an unsettled mind as the character of Aloysius reveals.

Meaning of ‘Having Doubt’

Right from the beginning of the play, Sister Aloysius stands out as a stone-faced woman who digs out evil actions at any cost. However, at St. Nicholas, her quest to implicate father Flynn is futile in a way since he ends up being transferred to another parish, with a promotion therein. This leaves her in doubt whether the church hierarchy is aware of his wrongdoing thus trying to cover him up or he is simply going because she has used a lie to have him leave. She presents every argument with doubts. Sister Aloysius goes ahead to discourage James on the use of compassion to students as a teaching methodology.

She expresses her unsettled mind in her suspicions that Father Flynn has been molesting a boy in the eighth grade. It is amazing how her suspicions about him grow from one small gesture: the way the boy recoils in response to the priest’s touch (Vera Para. 6). She assembles small issues such as the length of the priest’s nails and his teaching techniques in the effort to support her allegations of father Flynn’s is sexual involvement with the boy. Having doubts too signify the possibility of lies.

Our Understanding of Aloysius and her Pain

In the end, when she discloses her doubts to Sister James, she does not go into detail to explain what it is that she doubts though one can logically deduce that it has something to do with the priest and the entire hierarchy of the church. She lies in meeting Father Flynn that she has phoned a nun from his previous parish and that she knows about his sexual involvement with young boys. Father Flynn is reassigned to a new parish with a promotion to become a pastor.

Sister Aloysius is involved in another case that sees a different priest dropped because of being a pedophile at St. Boniface. At St. Nicholas, she loses in that the man she is building charges against seems favored by the church authorities. Father Flynn has been in five parishes in five years. This according to Sister Aloysius is enough evidence that the authorities are aware of his misconduct and tries to cover it up any time people threaten to expose him.

At the end of the play, Sister Aloysius is, however, in doubt whether it is her lie about calling a nun from the previous parish that Father Flynn had served or it is the fear of being exposed that makes him move out of St. Nicholas. However, the reader has much to understand about Aloysius and her pain at this moment.

The play ends with Sister Aloysius completely engulfed in her doubts about the whole situation. This is emphasized in the words “I have doubts! I have such doubts” (Shanley 45.1), evidence that she does not succeed in her quest to see the priest exposed since everyone she tries to draw support from seems to avoid her. The whole aspect of uncertainty expressed in the play is unresolved to the end since what ensues after the transfer of Father Flynn is not known and hence her pain, following her realization that there is no real cure of doubts.

Works cited

Shanley, Patrick. Doubt. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2005. Print.

Vera, Nella. Doubt, John Patrick Shanley, 2004. Web.

Read more