Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369
In The Nun, Denis Diderot uses the story of Suzanne, a young woman forced into a convent, to explore the problems of confinement and isolation along with issues of class and morality.
When Suzanne is sent to a convent in order to remove her from the interest of her sister's suitor, she protests, but not too loudly, because she thinks she'll eventually get to go home. She doesn't; she finds out that she is the product of an affair and that she'll have no financial support. Everyone tries to get her to stay in a convent. When she refuses her vows, it creates such a scandal that they're able to use that against her.
As the story continues, though, Suzanne is greatly affected by her confinement and forced stay at the convents. Almost everyone she meets in the convents is either cruel or crazy or ends up dead. No one is lifted up by the experience. Rather, they're brought lower, and they victimize each other, which makes it worse for everyone.
Suzanne is convinced to stay through arguments by her mother and a priest. They explain that since she cannot get money which is held by her mother's husband, the convent offers her a chance for a modest income and a safe life. The priest tells her not to rely on her sisters' husbands either, because it's unlikely they'll help her.
Part of what makes Suzanne susceptible to these arguments is her social standing. Many jobs were considered lower-class and would not have been suitable for her. It takes being almost killed, put in forced confinement, and being tricked into a brothel before Suzanne finally takes a job at a laundry. She knows it's beneath her position, though, which is one of the reasons why she's writing to the Marquis and telling him her story in the hope that he'll find her a suitable position.
Morality is also affected by social class. If Suzanne was from a lower social class, chances are that she would not be so affected by her mother's adultery. Since her mother and father are prominent people, they try to convince her that staying in the convent will help absolve her mother of her sins.
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