Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Devils is a play about a man’s destruction—both by his own values and by those of his society. Although its point of departure is the actual burning of a priest in seventeenth century France, Whiting employs only those elements that suit his theme. Grandier seeks spiritual perfection but cannot overcome his pride, lust, and desire for power. Pathetically, he attempts to purify his desires. He tells one woman that he makes love to her so that her simple mind can understand God’s love; he performs a marriage ceremony between himself and Phillipe. As Sewerman points out, however, he only deludes himself. Grandier comes to realize this, and eventually acknowledges that he is spiritually dead and pursues worldly pleasures and enterprises in hopes of creating an enemy that will kill him and send him to God.

Sister Jeanne, who is the major instrument of Grandier’s destruction, ironically resembles the priest in her desire to combine spiritual and physical love and in her experience of guilt, emptiness, and self-destructive desires. She tells her nuns that their hoax had been designed to expose the hollowness of love and to show men that they were made only for loneliness and death. Near the end of the play, she contemplates suicide.

Other social and personal flaws also contribute to Grandier’s doom. The most obvious of these is the religious superstition that overpowers de Condé’s exposing the possessions as a hoax and...

(The entire section is 510 words.)