Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You Themes
by Christopher Durang

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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 her resentment toward Pope John XXIII for instituting changes in the Church; she insists that her charges restrain their own physical and mental needs while she yields to ego demands at every turn. This authoritarian egotism is evident, for example, when, in answer to the question “How do we know” that “Christ loves us an infinite amount . . .?” Thomas answers, “Because you tell us,” and when her name and her restrictive moral visions are heard in dramatic lines spoken by the Virgin Mary in the juvenile Nativity pageant.

On the larger level, the play is concerned with much more than the excesses of the central character. Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for...

(The entire section is 514 words.)