Bullet in the Brain


Tobias Wolff

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The Painted Ceiling Symbol Analysis

The Painted Ceiling Symbol Icon

Before Anders is shot, one of the bank robbers tells him to look up at the ceiling. Instead of cautiously handling this violent situation, Anders looks up and focuses on the ceiling’s mural, which he characterizes as amateur artistry. In his mind, Anders elaborates on what he perceives to be poor artistic decisions: he describes the ugliness of the painting’s subjects and the repetitiveness of certain elements, such as the facial expression of the painting’s cherubs. Lastly, he focuses on a scene between two ancient figures, Zeus and Europa, and criticizes how the artist drew them in a comical and overdramatic style. Zeus and Europa are characters from classical Greek myth, a part of history that Anders, in his youth, used to respect and admire. As an adult, however, the painted ceiling and its classical backdrop are targets of Anders’s scorn and cynicism. The painted ceiling thus represents the majesty and tradition of art, concepts that no longer impress Anders: he used to be moved by such things, but now he chooses to criticize and mock them.

The Painted Ceiling Quotes in Bullet in the Brain

The Bullet in the Brain quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Painted Ceiling. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Bullet in the Brain published in 2009.
Bullet in the Brain Quotes

The domed ceiling had been decorated with mythological figures whose fleshy, toga-draped ugliness Anders had taken in at a glance many years earlier and afterward declined to notice. Now he had no choice but to scrutinize the painter's work. It was even worse than he remembered, and all of it executed with the utmost gravity.

Related Characters: Anders
Related Symbols: The Painted Ceiling
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Painted Ceiling Symbol Timeline in Bullet in the Brain

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Painted Ceiling appears in Bullet in the Brain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Bullet in the Brain
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
...The robber uses the pistol to tilt Anders’s head to look at the bank’s painted ceiling. (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Anders begins to study the ceiling, which is covered in a mural depicting classical figures from history, such as the Greek... (full context)