The Sisters: Questions and Answers

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430

Study Questions
1. Interpret the significance of the first sentence.

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2. When the boy dreams of Fr. Flynn, why does he “try to think of Christmas”?

3. The boy, considering the intricacies of Church doctrine, thinks: “I wondered how anybody had ever found the courage to undertake [learning] them.” Explain the irony in this.

4. When viewing the body, the boy says that the candles looked like “pale thin flames.” What is the symbolism of this?

5. When Flynn was paralyzed, he dropped his breviary to the floor. Can you interpret this?

6. When Eliza reminisces about her brother, she says that when he was ill, “You wouldn’t hear him in the house any more than now.” Why is this ironic?

7. Eliza blames the Flynn’s dropping of the chalice on the [altar] boy. How does this relate to the narrator?

8. According to his sister, Flynn had dreamed of renting “one of them new-fangled carriages” and riding around for the day, but never did. Is there significance in this?

9. What is the significance of the “idle chalice” on the priest’s chest?

10. After viewing the body, the boy doesn’t take any refreshment, nor does he talk about the priest. What does this signify?

Answers
1. “No hope” is the theme of the Dubliners’ lives. The “third” stroke indicates both the holy trinity and the three times that Christ was betrayed by Peter.

2. He thinks of Christmas because it has an overtly Christian message which he can grasp, unlike the enigmatic approach to the Church that Fr. Flynn represents.

3. Father Flynn never had courage and was actually spiritually bankrupt. The boy admires him for something he doesn’t have.

4. Fr. Flynn was a degenerate priest; the flames are an allusion to hellfire.

5. Once Flynn became emotionally paralyzed, he lost his spiritual belief. Therefore, the dropping of the prayer book is a metaphor for the dropping of religion from his life.

6. The irony is this: he was no more alive before his death than he is now that he’s passed away.

7. If Flynn blames his failure on the priesthood on this initial incident, he may associate the narrator with the altar boy who allegedly failed him long ago.

8. Evidently, Flynn longed for movement or development, as opposed to the literal and figurative paralysis he had to endure.

9. The chalice (the holy cup) the priest holds is idle; it does nothing and fulfills nothing, just like Fr. Flynn himself.

10. The priest is associated with spiritual as well as physical paralysis. The boy, influenced by having viewed the dead priest, is unable to respond, just as he was.

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