Gender Segregation in Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable

Subject: Culture
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 907
Topics: Gender Roles, Plays, Racial Segregation, Symbolism

Doubt: A Parable authored by John Patrick Shanley is a play that premiered on November 23, 2004, in Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City. This play is set in the fictional Catholic school in the Bronx during the fall of 1964 (Shanley n.p). The play opens with an oration by Father Flynn, a progressive parish priest who was trying to address the implication of doubt saying that it is as powerful as a certainty. Father Flynn’s oration sparks Sister Aloysius who was the school principal into a belief that there is something not good happening at the parish as oration do not come out of anywhere. She adds that sermons come from the personal walk of the priest. Sister Aloysius goes further to tell other sisters that there is something wrong happening in the school. Gender segregation is widely evident in the play. The nuns are not allowed to be with anyone privately. Thus, in the play, Shanley portrays gender segregation as a norm that continues to adversely affect women.

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The segregation along gender lines affects Father Flynn who is the priest since he cannot be along with anyone else – neither Sister Aloysius nor any of the kids or any of the other nuns. Father Flynn is almost destined to be unsuccessful since anytime he is alone he is going to put himself into trouble (Shanley n.p). He is going to get into trouble because the one time he gave a talk to a boy, it incited him to live the church. The other good example of this is where he cannot be with Sister Aloysius without another nun being in the same place or offer. In the play, we see that gender inequality is very clear and dominant.  Sister Aloysius is the school principal of St. Nicholas school, but when it comes to the church structure, that power is renounced to the men centered on the simple details that Sister Aloysius is a woman (Witchel 32). Nuns in the church structure are placed at the bottom of the Patriarchal hierarchy. When Sister Aloysius had certainty that the priest is engaging in wrong behavior with a boy within the school, she cannot act on her suspicions though she is the school principal since, within the structure of the church, Monsignor Benedict is the factual authority symbol at the St. Nicholas parish. Sister Aloysius expresses high respect for the system set in place and her superior, but she considers the monsignor to be “obvious” (Shanley 19). This shows that women were highly oppressed as their claims were not even heard.

The garden symbolizes best of both the nuns and the priest. On the other hand, it can actually be negative since it sets apart and further separates both genders. The special division generally suggests that in the play, men have more power over women. Males have more privilege and power since they have their own places to go to (Witchel 31). Additionally, women face a lot of restriction in the play. We see the nuns have more restrictions and no privacy compared to men who can move from one place to the other (Shanley and Dale 70). As explicated by Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn who is the priest was protected by the monsignor and thus she could not go to anyone else but to the monsignor which would rather make her powerless in the case.

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Sister Aloysius says, “Here there is no man I can go to. Men run everything. We are going to have to stop these ourselves” (Shanley 23). She says these words to Sister James. She means that there is no man that can actually help her as she does not have any allies.  Men come together to protect and defend one another while leaving women aside. Sister Aloysius says she will have to go at this alone and ensures James that she has done this even before. When she also stated “we might as well be separated by the Atlantic Ocean”, she meant that her power was thwarted (Calhoun 61). Sister Aloysius’s power was thwarted because the priest who was Father Flynn went straight to the bishop and he ended up getting a promotion and this thus also proved the truth of her words that “the men run everything”. It is now evident that in the play, there was a lot of gender inequality as we have explicated above.

In conclusion, Shanley has clearly explored gender inequality. Women have no privilege in St. Nicholas Catholic Church. They were restricted from moving on their own and no privacy among them especially the nuns. The play tries to explain to us some of the negative things at times happen in our churches. We see Sister Aloysius having a lot of doubt about something bad happening and because she is a woman, she would not raise her mistrust. Mr. Shanley, in his play, deals with an awful lot of complex issues such as feminism where Sister Aloysius being a woman does not have authority over men.

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  1. Shanley, John P. Doubt: A Parable. Theatre Communications Group, 2008.
  2. Shanley, John P, and Jennifer Dale. Doubt: A Parable. CNIB, 2005.
  3. Calhoun, Ada. “Bryony Lavery and John Patrick Shanley Dish about Religion,” in New York Magazine, September 13, 2004, p. 61
  4. Witchel, Alex. “The Confessions of John Patrick Shanley,” in the New York Times Magazine, November 7, 2004, pp. 31-35.
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