This book was packed with symbolism. I came across an article, The Pomegranate As a Symbol, which covers the fruit’s symbolism across a number of cultures. And every single one of them made me look at the book from a different angle: fertility, prosperity, beauty, eternal life. It really made me want to re-read the book.
Ohhh, interesting! I was thinking along the lines of fertility, since it comes into play right about when Josephine would have gotten pregnant.
I was going to sit this one out but you all have activated my mythology Geek-o-meter so I have to jump in! Pomegranates are also a major component in the myth of Persephone, a goddess of nature. Hades, the god of the underworld, fell in love with her, and tricked her into eating 6 pomegranate seeds which meant she had to live in the underworld for 6 months. It is the concept of winter—a time of death in the natural world. They are also a symbol of fertility, as Shannon said, so maybe the fact that they keep appearing in the novel but are not eaten is about the balance between life and death.
Do you think we’re meant to see The Database as a representation of god?
It wasn’t something that I had considered…but…wow. It definitely fits. To me, I saw The Database more as IT in Camazotz from A Wrinkle in Time, all-powerful, all-controlling, demanding submission.
I thought the Database represented cult-like thinking. “Remember, you need the Database as much as the Database needs you.”
It’s definitely suggested, with the way everyone takes on the same appearance, etc.
To me The Database represented a giant, unthinking, soul-sucking, corporation. But I can definitely see the god comparison as well.
That’s sort of how I saw it as well; working at the database felt like a soul crushing necessity in order to survive, and because of that, you can’t complain about rules against personal decor and pungent halitosis.
What about Michell-Tiffa-Kimberly (what was her name again)? Was she significant in any way? She almost was out of place for me, I couldn’t figure her function.
Trishiffany! Wasn’t she a trip? I saw her as THAT GIRL at the workplace. You know the one, she organizes the team building exercises and makes sure that everyone in the office gets a birthday cake on their special day. Hooray!
I don’t know what to think about Trishiffany…Truthfully, I’d forgotten about her until now. Perhaps there some symbolism that I’m missing regarding her role in relation to the boss?
Trishiffany was like the person who blindly follows the boss and drops hints to everyone that she’s more important to the company than she actually is. She’s the co-worker who’s fun and bubbly on the surface, but you remain cautious around her. Because you’re pretty sure all of her observations about you—all her interactions with you—are reported back to the boss, tattle-tale style.
I’ve seen a few reviews mention that they felt let down by the end. I think books like this are tough, in that we think we want all the answers, but whenever that happens I feel like things are too tidy. I thought Phillips found a pretty good balance in what she revealed and what she left unanswered.
With endings like this, my initial reaction is to feel like there should be more to it. I recall thinking as the pages dwindled I felt nervous about it wrapping up in time. But the universe is rarely so kind as to wrap things up in such a tidy way, why should we demand it of our reading? The openness with with the story ends was so fun in that the possibilities for Joseph and Josephine felt limitless. It stuck in my head for several days afterwards.
Generally, tidy endings annoy me. I loved the openness and weirdness of both the ending and the entire book. It was so packed with symbolism and wonderfulness in such a short book.
I’m a fan of ambiguous endings, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. This book was weird and wonderful, as April said. A weird and wonderful ending was the only way to go.
Do you think that the wordplay was a way to show Josephine’s descent into the Database? The fact that she started referring to her husband by his social security number?
I saw it as a descent into madness or paranoia. It started as playful banter between the two of them, but became more nonsensical as the novel went on.
It seems that we all view this book differently. I saw it as commentary on how easily the workplace will crush you, your marriage, and your life—if you let it.
I definitely think that’s part of it, but that final scene with ALL the files makes me feel like there’s more to the book than just work and being a cog in the machine. I’m not religious, but I feel like there’s also commentary on creation (The Department of Genesis, etc.), and the role we play (or don’t play?) based on our choices. I’m still trying to noodle it all out, but that’s part of what I love about this book.
So tell us, readers: How did you feel about The Beautiful Bureaucrat? Did you figure out what “The Database” was before Josephine did? Are there parts of the book you’re still trying to figure out?