Ann Beattie's Janus Great Literature essay

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6). Beattie, like anyone else, was a product of her times.

She is also, again like anyone else, a product of her own individual circumstances. A further interpretation of the bowl as a symbol of the feminine finds a deeper connection between the circumstances of the fictional Andrea and the real-life Ann Beattie. Though she is not especially forthcoming with personal details, there are some facts with which a correlation can be drawn.

Though (presumably) happily married for many years, Ann Beattie and her husband have no children (Frost, par. 1). Again, she has not shared the reasons for this, nor would it be a reasonable question to pose to her. It is a significant fact to note, however, given the resemblance of the bowl to the female womb. Henningfield suggests an interpretation of the bowl, especially of the husband's turning away from it and Andrea's refusal to let him put is keys into a bowl that is "meant to be empty," as reflecting both Andrea's and her husband's separate desires to not have nay children, for the sake of having successful careers and individual lives (Beattie, 81; Henningfield, par. 17-20).

Though it cannot be stated with certainty, it is not at all unlikely that Andrea's attitude towards children -- if indeed that is one of the meanings that the bowl is supposed to imply -- at least partially reflects Beattie's own attitude towards that subject. Certainly, it would be difficult for her to continue her writing career and her professorship with the added burden of children. At this point in her life, she is almost certainly past the point of childbearing, but that was not the case when she wrote "Janus," and her continued lack of children could be cited as evidence -- circumstantial and anecdotal, it is true, but suggestive nonetheless -- that this was indeed her decision and her intent even when this story was written and probably long before that.

Another possible interpretation, that again makes certain unknown assumptions about Beattie's life based on known details, is that the bowl reflects Andrea's inability to let go of a fertility issue. It is possible that there is a biological reason for both her and Beattie's lack of offspring, and this could be one reason Andrea's husband sees so little use for the bowl. In this way, the bowl would represent the inadequacies felt by an infertile female. Perhaps this reflects Beattie's own feelings about not having any children either for her or her husband, and regardless of the reason. Taking this interpretation further, the lover that gave Andrea the bowl in the first place could represent a new and different respect and desire for her femininity despite her lack of ability to produce children. This would represent a true desire for her, not for her symbolic femininity. Again, applying this to Beattie's life requires some speculation, but given her early dependence on male relationships it seems a likely interpretation.

In an interview with Lara Koch, Beattie recalls a time when she was recovering from surgery at nine years old, and awoke to find her father sitting as till and weightless as he could on her bed: "I think in that moment I understood adulthood in a way I hadn't before. It stuck in my mind, obviously -- though such exactly remembered moments rarely make it into my fiction" (Koch, 14). This is reflected in yet another interpretation of the bowl, as a surer point of contact and communication then was possible with real human beings (Brent, par. 22). Beattie associated her earliest concept of adulthood with a moment of fear, and was struck by the various faces we put on. The bowl is open in the fact that it has two faces, and provides a sort of relief from the complex and taxing demands that real human interaction requires. Perhaps Beattie and Andrea just want a little peace.

Only the most basic verifiable details of Ann Beattie's biography are available; she has yet to write a memoir or any work of direct personal revelations. Reasoned and cautious extrapolation from the events of and details of her life that are known, however, can provide useful insights into her work. Though Andrea is in now way a stand-in for her creator, the two share many qualities and perhaps even attitudes.

Works Cited

Beattie, Ann. "Janus." The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Allison Booth, J. Paul Hunter, Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2005. 280-283.

Brent, Liz. "Overview of 'Janus.'" Short Stories for Students, Vol. 9, the Gale Group, 2000.

Frost, Adam. "Beattie, Ann." Literature Online bibliography. Cambridge, 2002. ProQuest Information and Learning Company. 12 Mar. 2009.

Henningfield, Diane Andrews. "Overview of 'Janus.'" Short Stories for Students, Vol. 9, the Gale Group, 2000.

Koch, Lara. "All the Things You Look for in a Ring: An Interview with Ann Beattie." Folio, Winter 2006. Retrieved online 12 AMr. 2009.

Miller, Philip. "Beattie's JANUS." Explicator 46.1 (Fall87 1987): 48. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 12 Mar. 2009[continue]

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