An Analysis of Characters in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt

Abuse of Power

John Patrick Shanley in his play "Doubt" addresses different themes. The current analysis of the play "Doubt" focuses on the way the theme of "abuse of power" is reflected. The analysis utilizes content analysis in order to determine the ways the play communicates the theme. The play was set in 1964, a year after the US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which shows the political climate that surrounded the play and formed a basis for structuring the play on the theme "abuse of power" and hence, or otherwise "abuse of authority". The play, as a result, communicates rationale use of inappropriate power had manifested through perception of only one element and aspect in the United States at that time - collective insecurity and collective suspicion and increasing weakened belief in the possibility of things turning into a new leaf.

Sister Aloysius's suspicion of Father Flynn's possibilities of engaging in homosexuality; following admission of the first black boy as the altar boy shows the aspect of misuse of power. The theme is reflected in Sister Aloysius's and Father Flynn's reactions, their mastery of craft that is demonstrated through the whole play. The abuse of power is exhibited by lack of tangible evidence and lack of witness, but use and reliability of element of doubt, to demonstrate the cause. The abuse of power is communicated through Sister Aloysius's and Father Flynn's power of their performance, which is shown in Pincus-Roth documents as "nary a wasted word". The events that define the plot demonstrate the use of uncertain power by Sister Aloysius conservative approach to the Father Flynn's action of admitting the altar boy.

The Sustainability of Power of Uncertainty

From the perspective of Father Flynn, the theme is shown in Father Flynn's reaction to claims of Sister Aloysius, "I'm not going to let her keep this parish in the dark ages". The stability of Father Flynn's consciousness is evident through, "And I'm not going to let her [sister Aloysius] destroy my spirit of compassion". The validity of utility of power is evident in Father Flynn's argument in support for his cause on admitting the altar boy through stating, "I can look at your face and know your philosophy. It's kindness".

The theme, if the claims were true and valid, could have demonstrated reliability and credibility of sister Aloysius documented "kindness". Due to lack of evidence, abuse of Sister Aloysius's power is shown through sentiments of Flynn, "There are people who go after your humanity, Sister, that tell you the light in your heart is a weakness", which show the possibility of Sister Aloysius's approach to "get rid of Flynn" as, "It's an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue". Likelihood of Sister Aloysius's claim is evident through Flynn's reactive indication, "There's nothing wrong with love".

The suspicions of Sister Aloysius about possible father Flynn's role in sexual abuse of the altar boy were demonstrated through proclivity of bishops to cover-up incidents; hence Sister Aloysius, being an insider and having full knowledge on the conduct of bishops, was right and possible whistleblower on the incident. The theme, as a result, is demonstrated through "cover-ups", likelihood of making unsubstantiated accusations, and complexities of the circumstances.

If it is perceived that Sister Aloysius was against the admission of the altar boy, then, Sister Aloysius could be said to be a traditionalist and, as a result, she did not use powers as required in defending her view of the altar boy admission. This could then imply that Sister Aloysius's accusations were personal and ill-targeted. Further, it could be perceived that Sister Aloysius's approach to leadership was not defined by transformation property. Sister Aloysius has led a life that was not exposed to uncertainties or doubts, high level of self-righteousness and strong inclination to iron fist form of authority where things ought to be the way they have been done. Sister Aloysius's abuse of power could be perceived through limiting transformation, inclination to use of her power, to challenge authority and decisions, and rationale iron-gloved principals could limit diversity. The theme is further reflected through past conduct of Sister Aloysius leading through the power of fear and discipline, banning the use of ballpoint pens and negative attitude to "frosty the snowman" as Christmas celebration that she perceived as "pagan magic". Further, is reflected through sister Aloysius's rejection of "liberal effect" on morality, elements that sister Aloysius associated with permissive and immoral world. Thus, the source of conflict between father Flynn and Sister Aloysius was purely in Aloysius's view and perception of outcomes of liberalization.

The Value of Father Flynn's Use of Power

Father Flynn could be perceived to have a sense of personality, diversity and reformism. The aspect of reformism and empathy that made Flynn prioritize the interests of parishioners played a leading role in Aloysius's perception of pedophile characteristic of father Flynn. Thus, conflicts of interests between Aloysius and Flynn were a product of differences in perception of what is right and can create value against what can be accepted to be of value and moral good. Through utilitarian approach to the primary cause of conflict, admission of altar boy, demonstrates divergence in views and opinions.

Acting on Hearsay

Sister Aloysius demonstrates personal reactions to hearsay that were communicated as right by sister James who, from her moral certainty, which had no proof, resulted into fulfillment of the theme, reflected by actions that could have changed the reputation and image of the catholic school and church. The theme is further evident; the suspicion of possible Flynn's guiltiness of taking advantage of the altar boy shows problems with doubtful leadership, misuse of power and authority, lack of identification of facts surrounding issues. Moreover, the lack of first thought in possible Sister James's hatred for what Father Flynn was doing as part of transforming the institution and leading change through conservative approach and liberal approach. The theme in Sister Aloysius's is clear from her laments on loss of tradition.


The events and abuse of power are documented to have been targeted at ruining father Flynn's personal life and career without reliable evidence. However, Sister Aloysius's allegations, if were proved true, it could be perceived that Father Flynn had abused his powers. However, due to lack of empirical evidence, Viola Davis sheds light into the issue by highlighting racial and gender inequality in the negative light.