What is the major conflict of the play Doubt?

Expert Answers
belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Doubt is a 2004 play by John Patrick Shanley about the accusation of child molestation at a Catholic school and the investigation by one of the nuns.

Father Flynn is a priest at a Catholic school. He takes an interest in one of the boys, the only black student, and the attention he pays to the boy causes some of the nuns to gossip about his intentions. One of the nuns, Sister James, tries to investigate and prove Flynn's innocence, but she is blocked by Sister Aloysius, who believes Flynn to be guilty. After talking with the boy's mother and receiving an angry self-defensive rant from Flynn, Sister Aloysius lies and says she has discussed his past with another parish. Flynn leaves the school but is promoted to Pastor at another one; Sister Aloysius feels guilt about lying and feels that she failed to expose Flynn if he was guilty.

There are several conflicts in the play, but the major conflict is between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius. Father Flynn preaches a gospel of love and acceptance, advising Sister James who believes in his innocence, while Sister Aloysius preaches strict discipline and believes Flynn to be guilty based on circumstantial evidence that. While Flynn's sermons talk about intolerance, gossip, and believing things without evidence, he may be guilty of a terrible crime; his innocence or guilt is never conclusively proven. Sister Aloysius is determined to expose him, but cannot find proof, and so builds her case on evidence that Flynn can argue against; without the input of the child, who will not speak out of shame even if he was molested, she has nothing but circumstance for proof. After they clash, Flynn still does not admit guilt, but his belief of Sister Aloysius's lie compels him to seek reappointment; giving in makes him look guilty. Sister Aloysius cannot admit that she may have been wrong, but she feels shame that she could not win without resorting to an outright lie. Both characters are strongly convinced of their own moral superiority, but neither can act without some sort of deception, or Doubt.