“I have been led by the bitter necessities of an interesting life to value the age-old practice of the wise: Doubt” (Shanley 6). The words of John Patrick Shanley about doubt resonates the belief of the people. Many often belief that doubting is the easiest thing to do. Not to believe is simple to do than to believe. However, more often than not the opposite is true. It is easier to follow the roads being walk by the others, that to deviate the path. It takes a lot of courage to say no, when everybody around is saying yes. It takes tremendous tenacity and sacrifice to do the age old practice of the wise: Doubt.
In John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a Parable, doubt and certainty is the overarching themes. The play shows how the doubt and certainty of an individual can affect the lives of the people surrounding them. In John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a Parable, the relationship between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius can be related to the sermons of Father Flynn, with the themes of doubt, intolerance, and gossip. In the Doubt, a Parable, the sermon of Father Flynn is scene one has the theme about doubt. It is a foreshadowing of the events that is about to transpire that will change the live of Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius.
Father Flynn uses a rhetorical device called pathos, or the appeal to emotion. In the sermon, Father Flynn talks about the despair that the people experience during the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. He appeals to the emotion deep within every person listening to his sermon. As the sermon continues, Father Flynn keeps on using the same rhetorical device, using emotions of the people to elaborate his point about doubt. In the sermon Father Flynn preaches, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone” (Shanley 14).
Sister Aloysius, throughout is always been doubtful. Doubtful of the teaching methods of Sister James and doubtful of the actions of Father Flynn. The doubt that is seeded inside of her is transformed to the certainty of Father Flynn’s wrong doings and it has eaten up her insides. The actions that Sister Aloysius has taken is very underhanded and very uncharacteristic of a women of the cloth. The course of actions that Sister Aloysius do, she thought was because of the search of truth, however, she is blinded by her hubris that she fails to see the whole story.
Her hatred of Father Flynn is rooted beyond the events abut Donald Muller. Her doubt about Father Flynn blossoms to the certainty that he committed the crime that Sister Aloysius accuses him of doing. In the fifth scene of the play Doubt, a Parable, a dialogue erupts between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. It started about an innocent discussion about the Christmas Pageant, however it turns out that it is an ambush by Sister Aloysius to Father Flynn to interrogate him about Donald Muller. During the conversation between the two clashing members of the church, aspect of their belief and personalities arises.
Father Flynn emerges to be a progressive priest, who wants to be in touch with his congregation. Father Flynn wants the members of the church to get off their high horse and become one with the community they serve. Father Flynn uses logos as his rhetorical device to persuade Sister Aloysius. As Father Flynn says, “I think a message of the Second Ecumenical Council was that the Church needs to take on a more familiar face. Reflects the local community. We should sing a song form the radio now and then” (Shanley 30).
Father Flynn’s argument is logical in a sense because as the order of the church through the Second Ecumenical Council, the church wants their people to be more humane; act like the people, be with the people. Father Flynn response to that is merge what the people like a meld it with the church, so people will feel more comfortable going to church. Father Flynn wants the church to be relevant still. The times is changing than ever before and for him the church needs to adapt to that never ending change. Father Flynn’s belief directly contradicts Sister Aloysius’ and that what causes the friction between them.
Sister Aloysius uses ethos as a rhetorical device in her arguments. As Sister Aloysius says, “We are not members of their family. We’re different” (Shanley 31). Sister Aloysius believes that the people of the cloth are different from ordinary men: that they are above them. She appeals to the character. presenting that the servers of the church are no ordinary being. She does not want the changes that is happening around her, for Sister Aloysius the church should remain the same as it is before. Because of her belief, Sister Aloysius repels any progressive ideas and the people that have them, like Sister James and Father Flynn.
Due to the attitude that Sister Aloysius presents during their dialogue, Father Flynn came up with the idea about intolerance for his sermon. Sister Aloysius intolerance to change and her attitude to people who executes those change is troubling for Father Flynn. As their conversation continues Sister Aloysius open up her true motive, to interrogate Father Flynn about Donald Muller. Sister Aloysius accuses Father Flynn with a crime without any concrete evidence and Father Flynn denies it. However, because of the conversation that they have, Sister Aloysius motive become shady.
She believes that she is fighting for her student and the truth, but it cannot be denied that she is also pursuing Father Flynn due to his belief. Even without evidence, Sister Aloysius continues her investigation, as progresses it seems like it similar to a witch-hunt. In the sixth scene of the play, Doubt, a Parable, Father Flynn’s sermon focuses on the theme of gossip. Father Flynn tells a parable about an old parish priest and a woman. The parable implies that gossip, regardless of whether it true or not can destroy one’s reputation and life. Through the parable, Father Flynn tries to persuade the people using logos.
As Father Flynn tells the conversation between the women and the old parish priest, “I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out of the wind! Well it can’t be done… the wind took them all over. And that is gossip” (Shanley 36). Father Flynn asks the audience to use their mind and think about the problems gossiping may bring. In a logical sense, gossip is similar to a virus, once is out, it will continue to grow, infecting the people it encounters and spreads like wildfire. Father Flynn uses the sermon to indirectly tell Sister Aloysius the reason of his resignation.
It is not because he is guilty, but because he does not want his reputation to be tarnished. It cannot be truly say if Father Flynn is innocent or guilty, however the act of Sister Aloysius cannot be overlooked either. Sister Aloysius masks her true intention of pursuing the truth, but underneath it can be said that it is all rooted in her hatred with the church she is serving. And Sister Aloysius cannot argue about the mistakes of the past because she also did commit a mortal sin. Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn both confesses and thought that they are forgiven.
Sister Aloysius’ certainty of the crimes of Father Flynn is due to doubt she has about the church; about the system it has installed. The man dominated world of the Catholic Church has made her cynical about going to the correct channels to complain and instead persecuted Father Flynn on her own. It is somehow ironic that throughout the play, Sister Aloysius hates the system imposed by the church, but somehow she is afraid of the change they are currently doing. In John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a Parable, Father Flynn’s sermon about doubt, intolerance, and gossip can be related to the relationship between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius.
Doubt, as Father Flynn almost losses his reputation due to the doubt Sister Aloysius has in her heart. Intolerance, as Sister Aloysius resistance to change, sparks the anger that she has later use to relentlessly pursue Father Flynn. And gossip, as Father Flynn leaves the school, to escape his impending doom due to the fear that not the church will persecute him, but his own congregation because of the accusations of Sister Aloysius. Doubt and certainty, although they are opposite, they are the two faces of the same coin. The void that certainty fails to fill, is being filled up by doubt.
And as time goes by the certainty that one has before will be eaten up by the small doubt one has in his or her heart. Sister Aloysius certainty about Father Flynn diminishes and doubt has taken over. John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt is not meant to be solved, however it is a parable and what it aims is to teach a lesson to the audience. There will be a time that one will feel certainity and doubt in his or her heart, but one must be cautious, for nothing is truly certain and not everything is doubtful. One must maintain a balance so it cannot ruin any life.