Inserting Postmodern Thought Into an Already Complex Discussion
Doubt is intellectually and emotionally jarring because it represents the fusion between intellectual movement and social issue of the day. The Catholic sex abuse scandal destabilized nearly every aspect of the Catholic church. Shanley's treatment of this issue is brilliant in the play. In one context, the overtures that Father Flynn makes, his endearing and compassionate nature, as well as his willingness to leave the parish at the end of the drama all take on multiple meanings when viewed in light of the scandal. In certain respects, it is almost impossible not to see him as guilty of something awful. This is as much a result of media saturation and cultural immersion of the idea that Catholic priests have become viewed as "different."
Yet, the ending is where Shanley introduces even more discomfort for the audience. When Sister Aloysius breaks down and confesses that she is really nothing but "doubt," it stirs the observer into an even darker place. We already have established that the presence of the sex abuse scandal is repugnant. However, Shanley forces us to confront the potential reality that more repugnance could be present if we lunged towards accusatory conclusions without anything else other than suspicion. In having the bastion of certainty and authenticity break down into a figure of doubt, Shanley is able to turn a high- powered precision lens onto our own modes of thought. If it turns out that Sister Aloysius did persecute Father Flynn into leaving because of the existential threat that he posed to her own condition of being, then we have the worst violation of faith compounded by a devious use of our own weakness. In the ending, the audience member is forced to confront their own presuppositions and thus, they are left with "doubt."
The Postmodern tendency is to offer deconstruction upon deconstruction. In a manner of thought, Shanley has accomplished this with his drama. He has deconstructed the structure of the church with his integration of the sex abuse scandal. However, he has also challenged our own notions in suggesting that the pendulum of silencing voice swings both ways. For so long, victims of abuse were silenced because of presuppositions and belief systems that denied acknowledgement. Shanley warns us against moving too much to the other side in making the assumption that all priests are pedophiles. In some respects, there is comfort in assuming such a position because it is a certainty. We see a priest befriending a child in need and we automatically assume he harbors ill will because it provides unity and symmetry without much in way of critically distilled thought. Thus when Sister Aloysius claims doubt, we are left with only uncertainty and insecurity about absolutist verification. Shanley leaves us with a Postmodern vision of deconstruction, forcing us to reject certainty in all of its forms if it seeks to neglect the nuanced condition of being in the world. Like Sister Aloysius, we are left only with "doubt."