Style and Technique

Beattie tells the story of Andrea and her fixation on the ceramic bowl in an objective, detached way. There is little plot; the reader is shown a glimpse of a time during which Andrea’s obsession grows. Details about the bowl, the day-to-day stimuli in Andrea’s life, and her state of mind are given profusely and objectively, in a flat tone. Beattie does not suggest how one should react to Andrea’s plight, but simply puts it forth. The story ends without resolution. The reader has more awareness of the relationship between the bowl and Andrea’s loveless life, between her past choices and her present condition, than Andrea herself does.

The drama in the story is predominantly psychological. The reader is told that Andrea dreams about the bowl, that she has a deep connection with it, that it is a mystery to her, and that she loves it. She focuses her life around it, centering all of her sales strategies on the bowl and refusing to talk to her husband about it, concealing from him details about her use of the bowl and thus about her life at work, and therefore shutting him out of her life even more than she had done in the earlier years of their loveless marriage. At the end, Beattie describes the bowl just as she depicts Andrea: “still, safe, and unilluminated.” Beattie provokes a certain amount of horror in her reader by suggesting a life with so little self-knowledge.

Historical Context

Children of the 1960s
Born in 1947, Beattie reached adulthood during the 1960s. Although her stories are not set in the 1960s,...

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Literary Style

Symbols and Imagery
The bowl in ‘‘Janus’’ serves as both the primary image and symbol of the story. Indeed, the story...

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Literary Techniques

The bowl in "Janus" serves as both the primary image and symbol of the story. Indeed, the story seems to be more about the bowl than about...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

Beattie's fiction has sparked controversy in some critical circles due to her use of minimalist techniques. However, her approach is...

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Social Concerns

"Janus" first appeared in the May 27, 1985, issue of the New Yorker magazine. It later appeared in the 1986 collection Where You'll...

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Compare and Contrast

1980s: In 1981 the divorce rate peaks at 5.3 divorces for every 1000 people, before falling off slightly in the next few years.


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Topics for Further Study

Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, and Bobbie Ann Mason are often classified as ‘‘K-Mart realists.’’ Read several stories by each writer...

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Literary Precedents

Reviews of Beattie's fiction are often mixed; it seems as if critics either love or hate her work. Although her 1989 novel, Picturing...

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Related Titles

Park City: New and Selected Stories (1998) offers a collection of some of Beattie's most well-received stories. The collection allows...

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What Do I Read Next?

Park City: New and Selected Stories (1998) is a collection of some of Beattie’s best stories. The collection allows the reader to...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Aldridge, John A. Talents and Technicians: Literary Chic and the New Assembly Line Fiction, New York: Charles...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Centola, Steven R. “An Interview with Ann Beattie.” Contemporary Literature 31 (Winter, 1990): 405-422.

Friedrich, Otto. “Beattieland.” Time 135 (January 22, 1990): 68.

Hill, Robert W., and Jane Hill. “Ann Beattie.” Five Points 1 (Spring/Summer, 1997): 26-60.

McCaffery, Larry, and Sinda Gregory. “A Conversation with Ann Beattie.” Literary Review 27 (Winter, 1984): 165-177.

Montresor, Jaye Berman, ed. The Critical Response to Ann Beattie. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Murphy, Christina....

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