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Doubt, A Parable

This guide was created for students in ENGL 1302 with Suzy Page.

Background Information

Sister Aloysius: The principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, is in her fifties or sixties. She is watchful, reserved, and unsentimental.

Sister James: She is in her twenties. There’s a bit of sunshine in her heart, though she’s reserved.

Father Flynn: A priest, Father Flynn, in his late thirties. He is working class, from the Northeast.

Mrs. Muller: Donald Muller's Mother. Mrs. Muller, a black woman of about thirty eight. She’s on red alert.

The story takes place in 1964 in a Catholic school in the Bronx, New York . It begins when uncertainty strikes Sister James, a young sister who recently started teaching at the school. She is concerned that the relationship between a priest, Father Flynn and a student may have become inappropriate and confides this fear to the principal, Sister Aloysius. Learning this concern, Sister Aloysius becomes determined to find out the truth about what happened and to protect the boy.

-Stage Directions Doubt

  • Concept of Doubt
  • Oppression of Women
  • Skepticism versus faith
  • Traditional versus progressive attitudes to education
  • The significance of parables in literature
  • Abuses of power
  • Religious repression 
  • Doubt vs. Certainty
  • Child Abuse in the Church
  • 1960s Setting (modern growth, upheaval and revolution)
  • Loss of Innocence
  • Faith, truthfulness, reason, sensibility
  • Determination to do what's right at any cost.
  • Liberal vs. Conservative attitudes in Teaching & The Church

About the Author

John Patrick Shanley, an American Playwright, was born in 1950 and raised in the Bronx, New York. The youngest child in a working-class Irish Catholic family, he grew up among the types of rough and wary people that would later inhabit his plays. Though an avid reader who began writing poetry at age 11, Shanley was expelled from school several times before being sent to a private academy in New Hampshire. After two years in the United States Marine Corps, he discovered playwriting while enrolled in the educational theater program at New York University; he graduated at the top of his class.

He has authored more than 20 plays, written screenplays, and directed his own productions.  He received three Academy Awards for Moonstruck, including one for Best Screenplay.  Doubt, A Parable played on Broadway from March 31, 2005 to July 2, 2006, and he won four Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this production.

Rix, Roxane. "Shanley, John Patrick." In Bryer, Jackson R., and Mary C. Hartig, eds. The Facts On File Companion to American Drama, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. (Updated 2011.) Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 5 Aug. 2014

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