For centuries the arts have grappled with the ideas and questions of morality. The play Doubt: a Parable in its essence is a morality play that metamorphoses into a parable in and of itself. Within a morality play the characters become archetypal and often struggle with the conflict between good and evil. Having the play set at St. Nicholas’s suggests and invites the presence of God within this struggle. Flynn may symbolize progressiveness and growth, the dawn of a new era, the modernity of where the Church finds itself headed towards with the proclamations of the Vatican II; or if guilty– evil—within the allegations of sexual abuse. Sister Aloysius may also be seen as evil in the sense that without knowing the absolute truth of what happened between Flynn and Donald, her accusations therefore become a lie that could inevitably destroy an innocent man; she may also be interpreted as tradition and justice, the black and white of the church’s doctrines at the time. Sister James may be seen as innocence and naiveté, the young blood not yet tainted by the world’s transgressions.
As many an author writes what they know, so has Shanley. Margaret C. McEntee Sr., who was also known by her confirmation name, Marita James, is an Irish Catholic nun who heavily influenced Shanley as a child and serves as the basis for Sister James’ character within the play. Also, in an interview with Alex Witchel of the New York Times Magazine, Shanley noted that a child within his family had been molested by a priest, he said, “The parents went first to the local level, then up the chain of command to a highly placed church official, who took them by the hands and said: ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you. I will take care of it.’ And then he promoted him. They were so shocked that they left the church for ten years. But they missed it, so they returned to a parish where the monsignor gave a sermon saying that with these church scandals it was the parents, not the clergy, who were responsible (Witchel).” Though Flynn’s innocence is not determined, the idea of accountability comes to light. Writing what you know is not so much about writing about what you have experienced as much as it is about writing about the emotions—love, anger, loss, loneliness, jealousy…etc…that those experiences have left you with. We can’t truly know what Shanley felt growing up, but we can feel what he might have felt through his play of words portrayed on a stage.
Life and the theatre are interpretive; the allegories that we exhume from what we see are personal and solely based on our own interpretations and beliefs of what we have learned throughout our own experiences. When Sister Aloysius says to 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 wrong doing and the need to act;” these perceived ‘situations’ are open to interpretation. When confronted with moral dilemmas people find comfort in choosing a side, situations and beliefs vary, falter and are questionable because they are so personal. When the lights fade does our certainty of what we have seen wane with it? “I have doubts! I have such doubts!” Sister Aloysius