Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421
The Nun is the story of a young woman who is sent to a series of convents she tries to escape. The story explores the themes of isolation and confinement, sin, and being true to yourself.
Isolation and confinement are major themes in the story. Suzanne is stuck in the convent, isolated from her family and help, and cruelly abused. At one point she's fully isolated, locked in her room, and kept from food. She has to walk over broken glass and no one is allowed to speak to her.
The effects of confinement are also visible on the other women in the convents. Some of them die, others fall victim to insanity, and others become cruel and abuse the younger nuns. Being forced into that life has a number of negative effects on everyone there, and it's clear that many of them are being taken advantage of.
Sin is another theme in the novel. Suzanne is forced into the convent partially to pay for the sin of her conception, which is really her mother's sin. She's told that going into the convent will help her mother forgive herself for her affair. Suzanne is also forced into various situations that would be seen as sinful in a convent, like a physical encounter with the Superior in one of her last convents. She emphasizes over and over how innocent she is and doesn't seem to see the people committing the sins in front of her.
Suzanne has to fight to stay true to herself. She knows that she isn't meant for a life in the convent long before the places where she stays become physically and mentally abusive. Even though her first convent is safe, she takes the daring and risky tactic of going through the process of becoming a nun and then saying no to the vows when they're asked of her. This causes a scandal, but she doesn't shy away from it because she knows that she's not meant for that life.
Staying true to herself becomes more difficult when the places she stays become physically abusive and people take advantage of her. At one point, an unscrupulous priest forces her into a brothel. Still, Suzanne perseveres. She escapes even though it causes major damage to her body. She goes to work for a laundry, which isn't something suited to someone of her social class. Still, though, she's happier there than she was at the convent and is still looking for a better position via her letters to the Marquis.