Symbolic Themes in "Gospel Song" by Dorothy Allison
"Gospel Song" contains many complex, subtle analogies. Dorothy Allison, the author, repeatedly brings up the same traditional physical manifestations of specific ideas until they become thematic enough that the reader recognizes the symbolism as intentional. Most of these symbolic themes point to the longing pain and loneliness that is the narrator's perception of life. I will address three themes that do so directly and two that do so indirectly by referring to Shannon's body and her death. All these themes are also linked to gospel music, the central symbol of this longing.
The story concludes with the narrator recognizing that pure gospel is "absolute hopeless grief" (437). Allison depicts religion as a crutch for hypocrites. Too weak to face the reality of our lonely world, people invent a just, caring God. Therefore, a gospel song, as a petition to this imaginary loving being, epitomizes our hopeless emptiness.
Alcohol is a symbol of the ephemeral. Since the story takes place in a small Southern town with a strong Baptist presence, alcohol, which is brought up repeatedly throughout the story, is presented as evil and ungodly. Granny puts a twist on this when she compares alcohol with "that revival crap . . . It's nice to clean you out now and then, but it ant for real. It's like bad whiskey. Run through you fast and leave you with a pain'll lay you down" (419). The narrator foregoes this warning when she hears "a real gospel singer" and becomes "drunk on grief and that pure, pure voice." She is no longer concerned with the hypocrisy associated with her beloved gospel and prays, "Lord, make me drunk on that music" (423).
Air is traditionally associated with spirituality. In "Gospel Song," it is especially related to the transcendental (i.e., transcending the pa...