Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As a Roman Catholic play, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You satirically examines the psychological problems associated with parochialism—the sort of parochialism that concerns both educational practice and the view of life that education engenders. Thus, there are at least two thematic levels at which the play operates, one of these levels immediate, the other more general.

On the most obvious level, the play is about the harmful effects of misguided authority. Christopher Durang takes pains to show that the rigidly moralistic Sister Mary Ignatius, herself the product of a troubled family, possesses little insight or sensitivity toward people and life and even religion itself and, as Diane Symonds suggests, should never have been given the authority to teach children. Psychologically abusive, ignorantly pietistic, and often self-indulgent, Sister has sought to make her young charges over not in her image, for she regards her position as all too exalted, but rather in the image that she, in accordance with selected and harshly interpreted Catholic teachings, deems appropriate. Parodoxically, even as she professes authority, she makes clear that she is in no position psychologically to make such determinations about other people’s lives. In her repeated requests for displays of her pupils’ rote knowledge of the catechism, she encourages uncritical acceptance, even though she herself is not quite so yielding, as seen when she shows...

(The entire section is 514 words.)