Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Symbols and the Divided Self in Janus

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Symbols and the Divided Self in Janus

Article excerpt


The paper presents the main theme of American writer Ann Beattie's short novel Janus-the divided self. Illustrations are given here on the symbolic meaning of the mysterious bowl as well as the cold house. The relationship between bowl and love as well as connection between house and marriage reveal the true implication of two-faced god Janus. All the work throws light on the divided self resulted from emptiness, confusion and emotional difficulties of middle and upper-middle class.

Key words: Janus; Symbolism; Divided self; Bowl; Love


In 1947 Ann Beattie was born in Washington, D.C. She grew up in a middle-class suburb and graduated near the bottom of her class in 1965.

She attended American University, where she earned a degree in English in just three years. In 1970 she received a M.A. in English from the University of Connecticut. Although she began work on a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, she did not complete it, dropping out after a few of her stories were published. In 1976, she published her first book of short stories, Distortions, and her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, later made into a film.

In 1973 Beattie published her first major short story, ''Victor Blue,'' in Atlantic Monthly. In 1974 the New Yorker published the story ''A Platonic Relationship.'' Beattie became a regular contributor to the New Yorker. She has been awarded with the Guggenheim Fellowship1 in 1978; an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980; 2000PEN/Malamud2 Award for lifetime achievement in the short story form. Apart from these, her works were once selected in works of O. Henry Award and Best American Short Stories of the Century compiled by John Updike.

Janus first appeared in the May 27, 1985, issue of the New Yorker. It was published later in the collection Where You'll Find Me, and has often been singled out as one of Beattie's best stories. In her popular novels and short fiction, she continues to chronicle the lives of men and women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

Janus is the story of a successful, yet unhappy real estate agent named Andrea. She grows attached to a cream-colored bowl, often placing it here and there in the homes of her potential buyers as a trick to indicate distinction and specialty of the house for sale. She cares about the bowl and is concerned about getting it damaged. Her affection to the bowl proves more than she turns to her husband and it become her personal secret. By the end of the story, readers discover that the bowl was a gift from Andrea's lover, who asked Andrea to make a decision between two men. But finally she is unable to decide and her lover left her. The story concludes with Andrea gazing at the bowl's surface at night and saw a vanishing point on the horizon near the rim.

In Ann Beattie's stories characters are generally white, educated people born in 1960s or the descendents of that generation, therefore they are all impacted by the cultural and historical contexts of the Vietnam War. The theme of Janus has been explored by many scholars under such social influence.

Michiko Kakutani commented Janus in the article "books of the times" in October 1, 1986:

Janus-which portrays a woman's obsession with a bowl given to her by a former lover-becomes a highly crafted, almost surreal meditation on the intrusion of time past into time present and on the perils of everyday life. Ms. Beattie's people-the battered emotional casualties of the 1960's and the hip survivors of the Me Generation-are teetering now on the margins of middle age, and the aging process has made them somewhat less careless about their lives. Like their predecessors, they're still afflicted by a sense of aimlessness and uncertainty, but now the stakes are higher-cancer, infertility, the death of a child-and they're a little more concerned about the consequences of their actions, a little more appreciative of the connections they do maintain with family and friends. …

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