Symbolism in Janus

4 Jonathan Whidden English 1900B Ian McAdam September 29th,2012 Symbolism in Janus “The bowl was just a bowl”. (Beattie 455) In the short story “Janus” writer Anne Beattie uses a simple bowl to be the central focus of symbolism in the story. The bowl can be interpreted to mean or symbolize many different things. The bowl belongs to the protagonist of the story Andrea, a successful real estate agent who is married to her husband of many years. It has been argued that the bowl symbolizes everything from the life that Andrea lives or the world that Andrea lives in.
Though there are strong arguments for these arguments among many others, I believe the strongest evidence of what the bowl symbolizes is a personality or traits of a character that repeats itself throughout the story. This character is not so coincidentally the title of the short story “Janus”. In the following essay I will argue that the bowl symbolizes an ancient god by the name of “Janus” and all of his traits powers or attributes. Beattie uses the bowl to symbolize all of the traits of the ancient god thru the life of our protagonist Andrea.
To begin we must examine who this god was believed to be so we can relate it to the story. “Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions. He was worshipped at the beginning of the harvest time, planting, marriage, birth, and other types of beginnings, especially the beginnings of important events in a person’s life. Janus also represents the transition between primitive life and civilization, between the countryside and the city, peace and war, and the growing-up of young people. ”(Janus) 4

As mentioned above, it is no coincidence that Beattie chose this title. The two faces Janus the god has is a symbolism in itself, it symbolizes deceit as I interpret two-facedness as being deceitful or as Beattie writes “tricked”. We will learn that Andrea herself, proves to be deceitful and deceived, she is tricked herself. Andrea also is also stuck between two different life’s as we come to learn. She is stuck in the middle of new beginnings and endings in her relationships. Andrea seems unsure or lacks he courage to decide which path she would like to take. Andrea’s life had many doorways she could ave opened, unfortunately for Andrea, she stays on the doorstep. There are two important factors of Andrea’s life that the bowl plays a major part in, her social life and her professional life. Let’s begin with Andrea’s social life. Andrea is married to her husband of several years. Though Andrea and her husband have been together for a few years, they have no children together. Andrea and her husband both have their own successful careers as Andrea is a real estate agent and her husband a stock broker. For all the financial success they enjoy, their marriage was far from perfect.
Both Andrea and her husband are a lot alike yet distant from each other. “They were both quiet people- reflective, slow to make value judgments. ” (Beattie 455) Their relationship is where the symbolism of bowl comes into play, the bowl was a gift from a former lover of Andrea’s. The bowl was actually a gift from a former lover. “She had first seen the bowl several years earlier, at a crafts fair she had visited half in secret, with her lover. ” (Beattie 456) Andrea hid the origins of the bowl from her husband which is evidence of her two-facedness, “There were times where she wanted to talk to her usband about the bowl. ” (Beattie 455)
The fact that Andrea has kept the origins of bowl rom her husband is an example of her deception. It also shows an unwillingness to let go of the past. If Andrea wanted to rid herself of the memories of this former relationship, would she not rid herself of all gifts or memories from the relationship? Instead she grows an unhealthy attachment to the bowl over time, valuing it over her relationship with her husband. Communications issues are just the start of the 4 problem with Andrea. Andrea is not without guilt, she does show an urge to talk to her husband about he bowl, however her fear and the consequences that could come from it were stronger. Doors would be opened and closed, perhaps she would have to let go of the bowl, something she seems unwilling to do. Her relationship ended with her lover because of her indecision, her unwillingness to start something new and close the door on her marriage. “ Her lover said that she was always too slow too know what she really loved.
Why continue with her life the way it was? Why be two-faced, he asked her. He had made the first move toward her. When she would not decide in his favour, would not hange her life and come to him, he asked her what made her think she could have it both ways. ” (Bettie 456) Beattie gives us strong evidence of the symbolism of the bowl. Andrea’s career is the other important aspect of her life where the bowl greatly influences her decisions and contains more strong evidence of its symbolism. As mentioned, Andrea is a successful real estate agent. “(She had a very profitable year selling real estate.
Word spread, and she had more clients than she felt comfortable with. ” (Beattie 455) Andrea used the bowl as well as other “tricks” to help her in her career, or so she thought. When she thought that some prospective buyers might be dog lovers, she would drop off her dog at the same time she would place the bowl in the house that was up for sale. ” It can be argued that there is nothing morally wrong with these “tricks” that Andrea used to sell houses, I would agree. Yet the real deception comes from the bowl itself. Andrea has allowed the bowl to take credit for work she has done, allowing the bowl to deceive her.
“She was sure that the bowl brought her luck”. (Beattie 455 Bids were often put in on houses where she had displayed the bowl. There is no evidence at all to suggest that the bowl influences the sale of the house. There is no question that customers like the look of the bowl, some even inquiring on where the bowl came from. “Once Andrea got a call from a woman who had not put in an offer on a house she had shown her. That bowl, she said- would it be possible to find out where the owners had bought that 4 beautiful bowl. Andrea pretended that she did not know what the woman was referring to. ” (Beattie 454)
This is more evidence of Andrea’s two-facedness or deceit, ill will intended or not, Andrea is not ompletely honest with her clients. Unfortunately for Andrea, she allows the bowl to deceive her, convincing her that it is the reason she closes so many houses. How could a bowl do this, “The bowl was just a bowl. ” (Beattie 455) I do believe Beattie shifts the meaning of the bowl throughout the story. At times the bowl represents Andrea’s life, how material things are the only things she values, it shows a dependency on material things because of her passionless marriage. Other times the bowl represents her inability to make a decision or to let go of her past relationship.
It symbolizes her fear of choosing a path, choosing a door, closing relationships and starting new. Andrea instead allows the bowl to dictate her decisions. As mentioned above, arguments can and have be made for many different meanings . the bowl always returns to its roots. It came from a hidden relationship, it is used to “trick” home buyers. The bowl is a representation of a past relationship, one she had an opportunity to start a new life with, yet she didn’t. She is stuck in the middle of two doors, two paths. There is no beginning or end for Andrea because she evidently lacks the courage or .
The bowl represents the two-faced nature of Andrea, her trickery her two relationships. It deceives Andrea in convincing her that it is the reason for her success. “The bowl was just a bowl”. (Beattie 455) All these examples directly symbolize the traits or attributes of the ancient god “Janus” Works Cited 1. Beattie, Ann. “Janus. ” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Allison Booth, Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2010. 453-456. 2. “Janus. ” Encyclopedia Mythica. 2012. Encyclopedia Mythica Online. 01 Oct. 2012 ;www. pantheon. org/articles/j/janus. html;.

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