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Sex, Lies, and Education: Oleanna and Doubt

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2011, 24(2), pp.219-244
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Hyung Shik Lee 1

1건국대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Both Oleanna and Doubt aroused controversy by dealing with sexual harrassment occurring in school environment. Produced right after Thomas Clarence-Anital Hill hearing, Oleanna has been interpreted as the conservative political position of the playwright despite his adamant denial. Doubt also triggered controversy because it was written right after the clerical child-abuse scandals that have shaken Catholic Church for the last two decades. Both plays share some similarities that merit our attention; the alleged sexual harrassment or molesting takes place within the school boundary in both plays, which is supposed to be the sanctuary of moral and ethical standard; the incidents provide opportunities for the power struggle between the conservatives and the liberals; both depict the damages of this power struggle on American education and students. In Oleanna, John, who is on the point of being given a tenure, professes himself to be a liberal maverick who attacks the inadequacies of school system. While criticizing the school system, he mocks the efforts of hardworking students like Carol who strive to be initiated into academia. The tool he uses when he is doing this is the power of the language, which Carol has a hard time understanding, and which can be misinterpreted as sexual harrassment. In Act II, Carol comes back empowered by the language of her linguistic community, her feminist “group,” and attacks John for every word he has spoken and every action he has taken. The struggle for power escalates into a climax when John has no alternatives but to rely on physical violence. The tragedy in this play arises out of both parties’ refusal to understand and communicate with each other, entrenched within their own language. Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius are engaged in similar struggle for power in Doubt. Their battle is between the new Church and the old, between priests and nuns, the alleged abuser and the defender. Sister Aloysius suspects that Father Flynn is a gay and molested Donald Muller, the only black student in St. Nicholas. Even though nothing is proven, Sister Aloysius acts on her gut instinct and pushes him into the corner. After the final confrontation in the principal’s office, which becomes the battleground for the showdown between the proponent of the Second Vatican Council and the supporter of orthodox Catholicism, Sister Aloysius succeeds in expelling Father Flynn by telling him a lie, saying that she called his previous parish. However, all of them suffer from the aftermath; Donald Muller is heartbroken and Sister James loses her love of teaching; the certainty of Sister Aloysius is also shaken when she hears the news of Father Flynn’s promotion. Oleanna and Doubt depict the dystopian world of American education which is demolished by those who are absorbed in the power struggle in which nobody wins.

Citation status

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