The Theme That Lies Within
Andrea is a successful woman who is married to a successful man, and like many marriages, Andrea’s marriage has secrets. These secrets are not all visible to the outside world. Andrea’s marriage, personal life, the bowl, and even the title of the story are all important aspects that highlight the inner theme of “Janus” by Ann Beattie. In reading the story, and learning about the life of Andrea, it is evident that a theme of a double identity, and life happiness is persistent within the story.
The main symbol within the story is the bowl. The bowl in many ways is a lot like the character of Andrea. The bowl is mysterious throughout the whole beginning, and even continuing through the end of the story. Even Andrea herself does not understand her obsession with the bowl “ The bowl was mysterious, even to her” (208, Beattie). Andrea is a very mysterious character; it could be argued that she is the most mysterious to herself. Andrea is definitely not a character that gives the impression of knowing herself well, or understanding her actions.
The bowl is empty, it is a half of a circle, and for the most part it is plain creamy- white in colour, but with subtle flecks of colour. The bowl was not perfect in its appearance yet it attracts many. Perhaps this is what Andrea longs for in her life, an acceptance of her lack of perfection or the willingness to admit her imperfections. The bowl isn’t just some random decorative bowl, and it certainly is not a precious family heirloom. One thing is certain, if “ The bowl was just a bowl. She did not believe that for one second” (208, Beattie). It is as if Andrea needs the bowl to feel secure and to continue living in her double life. “ She did not think beyond that- to what her life would be without the bowl. She only feared that some accident would happen” (209, Beattie). Andrea was afraid to lose the bowl or in another light, to lose her secret identity and double life. Her lover gave the bowl to her; her husband did not know this, of course. Andrea would never tell her husband about her obsession with the bowl, and the power she had felt from it. And so, her secret will be kept, and her double life will continue.
A side from the bowl he first important symbol of the story introduced even before the bowl is the title of the story. In ancient Roman Myths “Janus” is the god of new beginnings and transitions. And just as her lover describes Andrea, Janus the ancient roman god is said to be two-faced. Just as Andrea seems to have these two separate identities, Janus literally has two separate identities. And so, the theme of identity and two spate lives prevails, even in the title.
In continuing the theme of double identity and happiness in living a double life, Andrea’s marriage and personal life provide contrast for one another. In Andrea’s marriage she plays the role of a successful woman married to a successful man. It is no surprise with the career, and financial success within the marriage there is an inevitable emptiness between the spouses. The abundant success in their careers seems to have left the marriage distant and empty. As a result of this emptiness it again, is no surprise that there is a romantic affair in the mix of Andrea’s life. Although Andrea’s lover removes him self from the picture that is Andrea’s life, she continues to live her double life. She does this by keeping and admiring her lover’s last gift: the bowl. As Andrea obsesses and idolizes the bowl even the feeling and good luck bowl that come with the bowl are hidden from her husband.
Life in general holds the common theme of the pursuit of happiness, which is beyond true within “Janus”. Within this pursuit there are things that people say and do to achieve said happiness. Andrea continues to choose to fill her void with people and possessions, and lives life believing “she could have it both ways” (209, Beattie). Andrea could not imagine life without her bowl. “She did not think beyond that- to what her life would be without the bowl” (209, Beattie). Her life was not fulfilled with just her husband, so she required a lover. When her lover had left the bowl had to fill her void. The bowl had become her second life.
The story of “Janus” tells the story of emptiness, and the mysterious journey to Andrea’s happiness with her double identity. It is evident that Andrea did not feel secure and whole within her marriage. However perhaps it is not the man who is the problem, but marriage is not enough for her, hence the lover. The refusing of leaving her husband to be solely with the lover shows that it is her need for having life both ways. “ When she would not decide in his favor, would not change her life and come to him, he asked her what made her think she could have it both ways” (209, Beattie). Andrea chooses and thrives in a life that is lived two-faced. “Janus” is dripping with the theme of a double life and the happiness that Andrea pursues or ironically rather the emptiness in the mystery in her lives she makes an effort to maintain.
“”Janus” by Ann Beattie.” The Norton Introduction to Fiction. Ed. Jerome Beatty. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 206-210. Print.
“Janus.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Wikipedia Foundation. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janus