Free Essay

Janus by Ann Beatie

In: English and Literature

Submitted By kattepote97
Words 1306
Pages 6
Carpe Diem, or seize the day, is an often used phrase and it summarizes a lot of individuals way of living. It has become a way of seeing beyond past mistakes and failures and a way to get through the day with optimism and joy. But seizing the day, or living in the moment, requires you to let go of the past. You cannot hold on to the past, while living in the moment. This is the essential problem for the main character Andrea in the short story, Janus by Ann Beatie, she carries her past on her shoulders like it was the weight of the world. But how does past ruin the present?

The main character Andrea is a divided individual, who is torn between a love from the past and her husband. First of all, Andrea is a divided self in the way that she is indecisive towards her husband and lover. Her lover made an ultimatum, which is seen in page 47 lines 38-43: “Her lover had said that she was always too slow to know what she really loved… When she would not decide in his favour, would not change her life and come to him, he asked what made her think she could have it both ways.” This clearly shows how Andrea cannot decide whether to leave her husband or not. Moreover, the quote shows how well the lover knows her compared to how little her husband knows her, take the following example: “When her husband first noticed the bowl, he had peered into it and smiled briefly… Her husband had pronounced the bowl “pretty,” and he had turned away without picking it up to examine it. He had no more interest in the bowl than she had in his new Leica” (P. 25 ll. 16-23). Comparing the two examples the reader gets the feeling that their marriage is loveless and uncaring, wherein Andrea’s relationship with the lover is the complete opposite. Andrea’s relationship is therefore more passionate and affectionate with her lover than her relationship with her husband. Second of all, Andrea’s relationship with the bowl is intimate and almost human-like. The bowl is the main turning point despite of Andrea being the main character. Andrea describes it in many details and the reader feels as though it is Andrea’s most intimate relationship. She protects and cares about it like it was a little newborn baby. This is shown by the simile on page 45: “All the way home, Andrea wondered how she could have left the bowl behind. It was like leaving a friend at an outing - just walking off. Sometime there were stories in the paper about families forgetting a child somewhere and driving to the next city. Andrea had only gone a mile down the road before she remembered.” This comes to show how important the bowl is for Andrea. Forgetting a bowl and forgetting a child is nowhere near the same thing, but to Andrea it is.

The symbolism in Janus adds immense depth to the story and it creates a whole new layer of interpretation. First of all, the title Janus is a reference to the two faced god, Janus, who was the god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is depicted as being two-faced looking simultaneously into the future and the past. The main character Andrea resembles Janus’ features by being two-faced. She is two-faced towards her husband and lover, which is shown in the quote mentioned earlier (p 47 ll. 38-43). Furthermore, the title could also represent the bowl. Andrea is sure that the bowl brings her luck and she blames it for her success in real estate: “She was sure that the bowl brought her luck. Bids were often put in on houses where she had displayed the bowl” (p. 45 ll. 24-25). Janus is the god of transitions and the bowl could be interpreted as Andrea’s transition from mediocrity to successfulness within real estate. Second of all, the bowl is the primary image and symbol in the short story. Even though Andrea is our main character, the bowl is described more frequently and in greater detail. The bowl could then symbolize Andrea: Perfect (p. 44 l. 1), empty (p. 45 l. 15) and vulnerable, which is shown in the following example: “It was large enough so that it didn’t seem fragile, or particularly vulnerable…” (p. 45, ll. 12-13). This fits Andrea perfect. She doesn’t seem fragile or vulnerable on the outside, but on the inside she is mixture of emotions and vulnerability. Moreover, the bowl is described as paradoxical, both subtle and noticeable (p. 44 l. 23). It emphasizes the symbolism in the title and in that way Andrea’s two-faced personality. Next, the bowl could be seen as a symbol for Andrea’s life or world that she lives in: “She often looked at the bowl sitting on the table, still and safe, unilluminated. In its way, it was perfect: the world cut in half, deep and smoothly empty” (p.48 l. 1-3). Undoubtedly, the bowl becomes a vessel for Andrea’s longings. Finally, the bowl could symbolize the lover, whom has left her. He has become “a vanishing point on the horizon” (p. 48 l. 5). The lover comments on Andrea’s indecisiveness when he says, “that she was always too slow to know what she really loved” (p. 47 l. 38), this could be what draws Andrea back to the bowl - now she has become aware of what she really loved, but it is to late, the bowl is that is left.

The story uses a very minimalistic style of writing in which the reader has to interpret and read between the lines. The minimalistic way of writing leaves a lot of blanks and it is the reader’s job to fill them. First of all, not once in the short story is Andrea’s marriage described, so the reader has to interpret. A good example is when her husband first notices the bowl (p. 45 ll. 16 - 24), this tells the reader that neither one of them cares about their spouse. Secondly, minimalism seeks to characterize the wilderness and despair that individuals go through, especially the female life. Janus is no exception. Andrea is living an oppressed life, not daring to leave her uncaring marriage, so she seeks comfort in a bowl given to her by her long lost lover. The bowl can be interpreted as many things, which leaves a lot of wiggle room to the reader to which they can determine for themselves, what the bowl symbolises. Thirdly, minimalism pursues a certain tone or mood. This is best shown in the last lines of the short story, wherein the emotional journey the reader has experienced peaks (p. 48 ll. 1-5). The melancholic ending serves as a closure to the reader and it enhances the emotional output of the story.

In conclusion to the analysis above, the short story Janus evolves around the indecisive Andrea who is torn between her lover and her failed marriage. Furthermore, Andrea’s relationship to her husband is uncaring and with no sense of love. In contrast, her relationship to her lover and the bowl is intimate and passionate. Moreover, the symbolism in the story serves to create a deeper meaning and both the title and the bowl is open to many different interpretations. An example is that the bowl could symbolize her long lost love. In addition, the story employs a minimalistic style of writing focusing on letting the reader fill in the blanks of the story, therein leaving wiggle room to interpretation. Also, it serves to create a mood, which is best seen in the last lines of the story. Finally, longing for the past ruins ones present - at least is ruined Andreas’.

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