The Monk

The Monk Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Do you think Ambrosio did the right thing by turning Agnes in to the Prioress after he discovered her letter?

    I think he did do the right thing. Agnes would have continued to break her vows, and her sudden disappearance from the convent would have caused more problems than her continued presence in it as her pregnancy advanced. Ambrosio had no knowledge of how severely the Prioress would react to Agnes' transgression; for all he knew, she might have been trying to dodge a well-deserved and reasonable punishment.

  2. 2

    The novel features a number of instances in which characters find it impossible to follow their vows of celibacy. Do you think it is ever useful or easy to make a vow of celibacy?

    I think it is certainly useful to make a vow of celibacy. There are things that are more important than giving into sexual desires, and making a vow of celibacy can allow one to focus on these important things without the distraction of sex. For some religious people, celibacy allows them to keep their thoughts pure and focused on God. Also, for some communal living situations (such as monasteries) in which members of the community are living very close to each other, it makes sense to prohibit sexual interaction, which could cause social friction and other problems.

  3. 3

    The Monk is remarkable for featuring numerous instances of supernatural occurrences (the gypsy's prophecy to Antonia and Leonella, the Bleeding Nun, pacts with the devil, etc.), as well as realistically depicting frustrated sexual desire. How do the supernatural incidents described in the book serve to enhance its gritty realism?

    Though the idea of making a pact with the devil seems supernatural, it might actually point to a very natural feature of moral reasoning. People make all kinds of immoral mistakes, but generally they recognize them as such, and attempt to make amends for them and avoid such actions in the future. However, some people give up all sense of right and wrong and abandon any attempt to make amends for what they have done wrong. Perhaps this is what Ambrosio does when he signs away his soul to Lucifer.

  4. 4

    What do you think about the advice Raymond's mentor gives to him - specifically, that hiding his noble background will encourage people to judge him by his personality and actions? Is this good advice or bad?

    I think that this is excellent advice. We often make snap judgments about how to treat people based on their social standing - for example, we might be excruciatingly polite to a company president but dismissive of a janitor. If Raymond openly spoke about being a high-ranking nobleman, everyone would attempt to befriend him in order to garner favors from him in the future, and he would learn nothing about himself or the world.

  5. 5

    When Ambrosio hides his sexual transgressions, the narrator notes, "Thus did he unconsciously add hypocrisy to perjury and incontinence" (pg. 243). Which of these crimes is the greatest?

    I think that Ambrosio's hypocrisy was worse than his lying or his sexual transgressions. If he were open about his mistakes, he would not have attempted to keep his advances toward Antonia a secret by murdering her and her mother. He would likely not have been able to rape Antonia at all. It is possible that if he publicly atoned for his crimes, he could have been an inspiring example to other people who were struggling with their sexual urges.

  6. 6

    Ambrosio thinks of a number of reasons why his breaking of his vows was in fact justified. Do you find any of them convincing?

    At one point, Ambrosio declares that lifelong celibacy is too painful and difficult for a person to endure, and that rejecting the joys of love means missing out on one of God's greatest gifts. I think this is true - after all, Ambrosio was brought to the monastery as a very small child, and never had the chance to experience anything about life outside of the monastery walls. He never had the chance to freely choose a celibate life, because the monastery was all he had ever known. I think he was justified in breaking his vows by having sex with Matilda.

  7. 7

    The Monk contains a long interlude in which Raymond explains to Lorenzo his adventures among the bandits and his struggles with the Bleeding Nun. What is the narrative purpose of this long diversion?

    This long diversion foreshadows the dramatic story of Agnes. Like Agnes, Beatrice was forced by her parents to become a nun, despite the fact that she did not want to live this life. Like Agnes, Beatrice broke her vows of celibacy with a young nobleman. However, Beatrice commits far worse crimes than Agnes ever would, including murder. This which makes Agnes' failings seem much more sympathetic by comparison. Additionally, just as Raymond must put to rest the Bleeding Nun, he must also comfort Agnes after her terrible suffering in the dungeons.

  8. 8

    The interactions between Ambrosio and Antonia are deeply disturbing, and end with the complete ruin of an innocent young woman's life. What is the most unsettling part of this story?

    I think the most unsettling part of the story is when Antonia tells Ambrosio how much she trusts him and how important he is in her life, and he takes this as evidence that she is sexually interested in him. From their conversations, he was aware of how innocent and naive Antonia was, but he deliberately twisted her words to support his lust. He was never interested in truly loving and supporting Antonia - he only planned to take what he wanted from her.

  9. 9

    Do you think that the fate of the Prioress is unjust or well deserved?

    I think the fate of the Prioress was well deserved. She tortured Agnes for months and caused the death of Agnes' infant. It is also possible that Agnes was not the only one that the Prioress punished so harshly. In any case, the Prioress was a murderer and deserved to be tried at the hands of the populace. Besides, she probably would have died just as violently after a trial at the hands of the Inquisition; though her public death was grim, and it may have been quicker than being burned alive in an Auto da Fe.

  10. 10

    At the end of the story, Ambrosio is told how easily he succumbed to temptation. At what moment in the novel do you think Ambrosio put himself beyond moral redemption?

    The moment he put himself beyond moral redemption was when he ran after Antonia as she was escaping from the dungeon and stabbed her to death. He had faked Antonia's death, killed her mother, raped her, and imprisoned her in a crypt, but he refused to let her have another chance at life. He killed the woman that he claimed to love after ruining her innocence. This incident also directly led to his apprehension by Don Ramirez, and his trial at the hands of the Inquisition. If he had never been imprisoned, he never would have signed his soul away to the devil.