Symbolism of the Bowl
In the short story “Janus”, Ann Beattie uses strong displays of symbolism to lead the reader into the personal life of the protagonist, Andrea. The author digs deep into the loneliness that Andrea’s life conveys, using a simple bowl as her main tool. The bowl can be seen as a symbol for the life that Andrea leads, or as a symbol for the world that she lives in, the world that she describes as “full of tricks.”
Andrea’s life seems to revolve around the bowl. As a real estate agent, Andrea uses the bowl to trick people into buying a home. She even states that “She was sure that the bowl had brought her luck (281.)” Andrea even wished that the bowl was an “animate object” so that she could “thank it (282).” The author shows us here just how connected Andrea is to this bowl. Further evidence is conveyed when the narrator states “What she believed was that it (the bowl) was something she loved (282.)” It is not until towards the end of the story that the author lets the reader in on the reasons why Andrea is in love with this bowl.
“She had first seen the bowl several years earlier, at a crafts fair she had visited in half secret, with her lover (283).”At this point in the story, the reader is now given a concrete reason as to why Andrea is so attached to the bowl. The reader is lead to immediately think that the bowl is connected to her past affair. Also at this point, the reader is able to connect the bowl with the loneliness that Andrea feels throughout the story. Past sentences such as “the bowl is meant to be empty,(281)” “she never talked to him (her husband) about the bowl,(282)” and “She felt like rushing past the frowning woman and seizing her bowl,(281)” prove that the bowl is the main element in Andreas life. It is the only thing she cares so deeply for, even over her husband.
The author’s use of textual context helps the reader develop the week relationship between Andrea and her husband. Not only does Andrea refuse to talk to her husband about the bowl, but she
states that he is not allowed to put his key in her bowl either. The author’s choice to use a single “house key”, instead of “keys,” allows for a sexual connection to be tied into the story. When the narrator states “she had asked her husband to please not drop his house key in it, (281)” the reader can then assume that the key and the bowl represent the male and female sex organs. It gives evidence that Andrea is not close to her husband, not even sexually. The sentence, “sometimes in the morning, she would look at him (her husband) and feel guilty that she had such a constant secret, (282)” is strong evidence that the author wants the reader to know that Andrea is not even close enough to her husband to discuss a simple bowl. It is also one way that the author introduces Andrea’s “world of tricks.” Here is where Andrea is left believing that the only secret the bowl conveys is its responsibility for her success. The real secret is that she had an affair with her husband, and she feels guilty for betraying him.
Throughout the story, the bowl’s symbolism allows for a shift in the stories overall meaning. At some points, the bowl symbolizes Andrea and her life. As mentioned above, it conveys her as hollow and empty. In other areas of the story, the bowl can be seen as symbolism for “a world full of tricks.”
Andrea uses “tricks” to encourage people to buy the houses she is selling. She brings in pets, and moves plants into the dark areas of houses, to allow for the appearance light. However, her bowl is the main tool for tricking customers into being intrigued by a home. The sentence “bids were often put in on houses where she had displayed the bowl, (281)” provides the reader with evidence that Andrea feels the bowl is responsible for her success. It is also where the author gives evidence that Andrea is not the only one doing the tricking. The bowl is tricking Andrea into believing that it only exists to her on the level of success, when, in fact, it exists as a reminder of her affair.
Not only does the bowl symbolize Andrea’s loneliness due to the guilt she has built up from her affair, but so does the title. Ann Beattie did not title the story “Janus” on accident. The author’s choice provides for a strong connection between the story and the protagonist. “In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of doorways and thresholds, usually depicted as having two faces (Booth, Hunter, Mays 283).” In the story, the bowl is the threshold of Andrea’s guilt. The bowl can also be seen as the doorway that she refuses to open. Her betrayal to her husband also allows for the term “two faced” to be applied to her also.
Ann Beattie uses strong displays of symbolism everywhere throughout her short story, “Janus.” The bowl seems to serve as the main symbol. The simple object in Andrea’s life allows for so many different aspects to be tied into one. The bowl acts as a symbol for who Andrea is, and as a symbol for the world that she lives in.
1.) Beattie, Ann. “Janus.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Allison Booth, J. Paul Hunter, Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2005. 280-283.
2.) Booth, Allison. Hunter, Paul J. Mays, Kelly., eds. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton 2005