Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655
Agnes is a Catholic sister in her early twenties who lives in a convent in the United States. After a dead newborn infant is found in the wastebasket in her room, Agnes denies any memory of giving birth or killing the baby. As the prosecution is preparing to try her...
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Agnes is a Catholic sister in her early twenties who lives in a convent in the United States. After a dead newborn infant is found in the wastebasket in her room, Agnes denies any memory of giving birth or killing the baby. As the prosecution is preparing to try her for the murder, a psychiatrist is brought in to examine her. Before seeing Agnes, the psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone, meets with the convent’s Mother Superior, who seems uncooperative. She is both uninterested in the identity of the father and protective of the young woman. One factor that emerges is that Agnes is a gifted singer, and the audience can hear her singing offstage.
MOTHER: If she doesn’t remember the birth, do you think she’d admit to the conception? Besides, I don’t see what this has to do with her.
DOCTOR: Oh, come on, Sister.
MOTHER: The important fact is that somebody gave her that baby, Doctor. That we know. But that happened some twelve months ago. I fail to see how the identity of that somebody has anything to do with the trial.
As they continue the conversation, the doctor starts to suspect that the Mother Superior is concealing something; perhaps she knows the father’s identity. She worries that the doctor will “cut open” Agnes’s mind and asks the doctor to be “careful” when examining her.
MOTHER: Because Agnes is different.
DOCTOR: From other nuns? Yes, I can see that.
MOTHER: From other people. She’s special.
DOCTOR: In what way?
MOTHER: She’s gifted. She’s blessed.
When Agnes first meets with the doctor, she denies seeing any baby; she says the police “made it up.” She also says she doesn’t remember that night because she was “sick,” from what she apparently believes was food poisoning.
DOCTOR: But where did the baby come from?
AGNES: What baby?
DOCTOR: The baby they made up.
AGNES: From their heads.
The doctor continues asking where they are claiming the baby came from. Agnes first replies that they say it came from the wastebasket and then, when pressed, she says “From God.” Agnes then gets angry and refuses to answer any more questions, so the doctor suggests that she ask the questions. After asking some personal questions, Agnes returns to the subject of babies’ origin. After talking about the difference between the “angels” that bring “good” or “bad babies,” Agnes becomes increasingly distraught and rambles about apparitions in the sky of “the Lady” she began to see at age 10. It is this Lady who makes her sing.
AGNES: [S]he told me she would talk to me and then her feet began to bleed and I saw there were holes in her hands and in her side and I tried to catch the blood as it fell from the sky . . . And she uses me to sing . . . [A]ll I can do is sing in her voice, it’s the Lady’s voice, God loves you!
As the interviews proceed, Dr. Livingstone concludes that Agnes believes she represents a modern instance of virgin birth, or parthogenesis; this is the reason she claims the baby is “from God.” The Mother Superior acknowledges the illogic of the idea of virgin birth: “If those are the answers, no wonder people like you don’t believe in miracles, Doctor.” The sisters reconstruct the likely night of conception as one when Agnes stripped bloody sheets from her bed and burned them. However, the question of virginity remains unprovable.
MOTHER: There’s no infallible proof for virginity. Only an absence of proof against it.
DOCTOR: Then how do you explain the bloody sheets the night of the conception?
Ultimately, even though Agnes admits to meeting “him,” she will not identify a specific man and continues to insist the baby was from God, and because she was unworthy of being the baby’s mother, she returned her to God.