An Essay on Ann Beattie’s “Janus”
“Janus” by Ann Beattie is a story of Andrea, a real estate agent, and the relevance of a plain looking bowl in her personal life and career. In the story, Andrea is attempting to make a connection between her two worlds – her past and present. “Janus”, the ancient roman god, is characterized as two-faced which symbolizes both the past and the future. Also referred to as the god of beginnings, Janus is said to look both ways. This roman god is also being associated with doorways and transitions.
I. Significance of the Title
A reader who will attempt to have a deeper reflection on the story of Andrea will find “Janus” as the most appropriate title to it. Andrea is a woman who lives in the present while holding on to her past. Just like the roman god “Janus”, her life can be described as two-faced because she is trying to reconcile two different aspects of her life or two different worlds. She refuses to leave the past and deal with the present. The odd connection that she has with her “bowl” keeps her from living her life the way she should. Given this scenario, Andrea’s life can be described as empty despite having a successful career and a husband. Her story clearly represents what it is like to cling on to the past while facing the present and anticipating the future.
The two-faced roman god, Janus, is significant to Andrea’s character. She is a woman who wants to keep both worlds while dwelling more on the past despite seeing everything that lies before her. Her odd connection to the bowl, which happens to be from her lover, symbolizes her inability to move on and to choose a single and more concrete direction in life. Her life is facing both ways (as if to play it safe or to find security) and as a result, her life becomes very empty and she is unable to establish a “real” connection to what truly matters in the world she lives in. “Janus” also signifies gates and doors that lead to transition. Based on Andrea’s story, she is a woman who cannot choose which gate or door to take. She always goes back to enter through the gate that leads to her past thus she is unable to focus on the gate that leads to her future even though she can see it very clearly. She is stuck in between and is trying to face both gates – the one that leads to her past and the one that leads to her future. Thus, she fails to go through life’s most important transition that can lead to her true happiness and fulfilment.
II. Andrea, Her Husband and Their Marriage
Just like Andrea, her husband is likewise reflective and somewhat discrete. Their marriage can be described as empty, just like the bowl that Andrea holds on to. Their lack of intimacy and communication can make any reader wonder how such marriage could work; or how long it will last. There is a space that separates Andrea from her husband physically and emotionally. This space is being occupied by the “bowl” and Andrea’s attempt to live in two different worlds. Her husband does not seem to mind or worry about the kind of “relationship” they have – if what they share in their marriage can really be defined as such. Andrea’s husband also does not seem to care about the “bowl” and just the same, Andrea could not care less about her husband’s concerns and interests. One can conclude that they are too confined in themselves that they are actually living in two separate worlds. Thus, their marriage is filled with spaces that neither one of them could fill. Andrea sometimes thinks about telling her husband about her bowl and the connection she has with it; but she always ends up not doing it at all. In a way, this gives her a sense of guilt.
Andrea’s marriage with her husband lacks honesty – the very foundation of every successful and healthy relationship. This may be due to their confinement to two separate worlds or to certain chapters in their marriage that caused them to be drawn apart.
Beattie, A. (1990). Janus. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. 4th Edition.
Taylor, R. (2000). Watching the Skies: Janus, Auspication, and the Shrine in the Roman Forum. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome Vol.45. (pp. 1-40).