Doubt Study Questions
1) Father Flynn’s sermons, in which he presents parables inspired by his daily
conversations, are not especially religious. Does one need to be religious in order
to be moral? What would Father Flynn and Shanley himself suggest?
2) Shanley begins his preface to Doubt by asking, “What’s under a play? What
holds it up? You might as well ask what’s under me. On what am I built?
There’s something silent under every person and under every play. There’s
something unsaid under every given society as well.” Discuss Shanley’s opening
statements and explain how they relate to the plot and themes of the play?
3) In the brief biography that accompanies the play, Shanley writes that he was not
only “thrown out of St. Helena’s kindergarten,” but was also “expelled from
Cardinal Spellman High School” and “placed on academic probation by New
York University.” When asked why he had been treated in this manner, Shanley
says he “burst into tears and said he had no idea.” Why has Shanley chosen to
present himself in this humorous but significant way? What do these details
suggest about his character? Does your knowledge of these details affect your
reading of the play? Do you see Shanley as a rebellious figure?
4) Sister Aloysius and Sister James represent two contrasting philosophies of
education, the first formal and the other lenient. Which character would you find
more effective as an educator? Does your school strike a balance between these
two approaches? Do you find it too repressive or too lenient?
5) Compare and contrast the values and attitudes associated with Sister Aloysius, on the one hand, and Sister James and Father Flynn on the other. Which values and
attitudes do you find more conducive to learning? Are there any risks involved in
creating too nurturing an environment?
6) What specific evidence does Sister Aloysius have to support her conviction that
Father Flynn behaved inappropriately with Donald? How does Sister Aloysius go
about gathering her proof? What is Sister Aloysius’s view on truth? And Father
Flynn’s? Note that he reminds Sister Aloysius that “even if you feel certainty, it is
an emotion and not a fact.” What is your view on truth? Do you believe in
absolute truth or relative truth?
7) Sister Aloysius points out that the gardener “pruned this bush, which was the right thing to do, but he neglected to protect it from the frost.” How does this statement apply to Sister Aloysius’ own attempts to protect her students? Why is the action of pruning symbolic?
8) How does the segregation along gender lines affect Father Flynn? The convent,
were the nuns are, is separated from the rectory, where the priests are, by the
garden. What does the garden symbolize? What does the spatial division suggest
about power and gender, and how does it place constraints on how the case of
Father Flynn must be dealt with and resolved? Sister Aloysius succinctly states
“the men run everything” and “we might as well be separated by the Atlantic
Ocean.” How is her power thwarted?
9) How is the following line symbolic? Sister Aloysius humorously declares “what
with our being in black and white, and so prone to falling, we’re more like
dominoes than anything else.”
10) Father Flynn argues that skepticism can provide a sense of community that is
every bit as nourishing as faith. Indeed, he ends his first sermon by saying,
“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.” Do you agree or
disagree? Support your answer with examples from the play and/or personal