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



6 responses »

  1. Virginia Martinez says:

    Answer to Question 10. Virginia Martinez.

    The segregation along gender lines affect Father Flynn because he cannot be alone with anyone. Neither any of the kids, Sister Aloysius or any of the others nuns. He is almost doomed to fail because any time he is alone with anyone he is going to get in trouble. The one time he gives a private talk to a boy it causes him to have to live the church. Or an other example is that he can’t have a meeting with Sister Aloysius without an other nun being in the same offer. The garden symbolizes the best of both the priest and the nuns, but it can still be negative because it sets apart and separates both genders. The spacial division suggests that the males have more power and privileges because they have their own places to go to and the nuns have more restrictions and no privacy. According to Sister Aloysius Father Flynn was protected by the monsignor, and she couldn’t go to anyone else but the Monsignor which makes her powerless in the case. He power was thwarted because Father Flynn went straight to the bishop and ended up getting a promotion. It proves what Sister Aloysius thinks: “the men run everything”.


  2. Virginia Martinez says:

    The precedent answer was to Question 8. My bad.


  3. John Long says:

    Answer to question 4: John Long

    Sister James is more lenient with her students, which makes her more effective as an educator. She helps the kids enjoy school by not being to strict and making the classes fun. Sister Aloysius is more formal, which makes her less effective as an educator. She is very strict, causing the kids to not like her and not enjoy school. My school does strike a balance between these two approaches. Some teachers are more formal and some are more lenient. It seems to be too repressive overall.


  4. Mike Dowell says:

    Answer to Question 1: Mike Dowell

    In the case of Father Flynn’s sermons he is not particularly religious but rather speaks from his personal experiences. During these sermons he provides real life situations with moral challenges and gives guidance on how one might remain moral while doing the right thing. Amid his sermon regarding intolerance he tells a story of a woman who has been gossiping and when she goes to repent her sin she is scolded by the Father listening to her. In this sermon it is not clear if the hand of God is present to the woman but rather, it focuses on the moral fact that one should not bare false witnesses against their neighbour and once this has happened there is no way to take it back. For this reason one could believe that Father Flynn himself would not suggest that a person must be especially religious during their sermons but rather spread moral awareness.


  5. Max Murdoch says:

    Question 4-Max Murdoch

    Sister Aloysius and Sister James both have very opposite teaching styles. Aloysius uses a more formal approach as a teacher, while James is much more lenient in her teaching. It is clear that Sister James is more effective as an educator because the students feel more open to learn new things in her calm environment. We get the feeling that James really cares for her students and wants them to learn contemporary things. On the other hand, Sister Aloysius has a very old-school style of teaching. She wants her students to learn religion above everything else; the other subjects aren’t that important. Aloysius doesn’t let much funny business get by her; she is strict with her students. The kids see her as a mean lady, when in fact she just has an old teaching style. I believe my school balances out these two styles pretty well. The students have a lot of freedom of speech in class while the school sets strict rules to keep them structured. I think it is perfect for younger students because it gives them structure and discipline, but for the older students it can be repressive sometimes. I believe the juniors/seniors deserve a little more freedom on certain things to get them ready for college; they need to learn how to be more independent.


  6. Tyree St. Louis says:

    Both of the sisters have very different teaching styles because of their personalities and beliefs on how teaching should be. I find Sister James as a more effective educator because of the fact that Sister James opposite of Sister Aloysius has more care for the children and care more about their good nature other than having control by imposing fear into her students.In my school there is a balance between these two types of approaches done by the teachers and staff. I do not find it neither too repressive or lenient. I do not feel it is necessary but I feel it does not hurt to have these two different types of figures and styles of teaching in a school to have to create a balance.


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