What is a parable?

When asked by David Dubov of the Quotidian Theater Company,” Was there any particular parable that you were thinking of as you were writing?” — Shanley replied, “Actually, there’re a lot of parables that hold particular validity for me, but I wouldn’t moor the play to any one of them, because I do like the idea of the audience getting to say what they think it’s about, for themselves (Dubov, 2017).”  Shanley’s use of parables within Doubt are used as a device to teach, through comparison, the moral questions and barriers between the relationships of the characters in the play:  Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn, Mrs. Muller and Sister James.

Jesus, within both testaments of the bible used parables much in the same way. When asked by his disciples, after The Parable of the Sower, “Why do you speak to them in parables? (Matthew 13:10),” Jesus quoted the prophecy of Isaiah, which says…

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,

And seeing you will see and not perceive:

For the hearts of the people who have grown dull.

Their ears are hard of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed,

Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

So that I should heal them.’

Jesus’ use of the parable was to challenge his listeners into believing by having them choose what they would hear and see within the stories he told. Enter the conundrum! If, and when, one chooses to believe the message of the parable, i.e., the lesson is learned—when do beliefs and convictions become sacrosanct, if ever?

Shanley has challenged the audience and his readers to see, listen, be unequivocal and enlightened. Make a decision. Or…? Not. The enveloping grey void between black and white can be bleak and lonely.