Study Guide

Allegory

by Mary Jo Bang

Allegory Themes

Themes

Art and the Artist

"Allegory" is closely related to Philip Guston's 1975 painting of the same name, and Bang's commentary directly engages with the central themes of the painting. For example, both works provide a self-conscious commentary on the predicament of the artist, including the artist's relationship to reality and society. Bang produces a somewhat unique perspective on Guston's painting, but she follows his lead in analyzing the dilemma of the visual, literary, and musical artist as he or she attempts to approach the world and create art.

Since it includes a scroll that reads "The Artists" at the top, and what appears to be a wave at the bottom with the words "composer," "painter," "sculptor," and "poet," Guston's painting suggests that the figures in the body of the piece are artists at work. Similarly, Bang suggests that the people represented by the pronouns "we" and "us" may be artists whose function ranges from "consol[ing]," to "adoring," to producing a "vigorous enactment," to looking out "onto death / and destruction." As in Guston's painting, the artist figures seem to be facing powerful and overwhelming obstacles; at the climax of the poem, the "actors," which again seems to refer to artist figures, stand against a wall and look out through a door of despair. Bang may be commenting on the barrier between the real world and the artist, the difficulty in determining the function of art, and the problems of creating successful artwork.

Myth, Fate, and Allegory

"Allegory" contains a reference to classical mythology, a commentary on the connection between myth and fate, and a suggestion (because of the title) that it is an allegory, or a story told in...

(The entire section is 706 words.)