This classic sandwich, undoubtedly part of your, the readers’, childhood and life, contains with them much symbol on which to reflect. In this we will explore the depths and the heights of what will once have seemed mundane. Peanut butter and (the traditionally grape-based) jelly represent the earth and the sky respectively, opposites each containing the seed of the other, combined between two slices of (our daily) bread.
Peanuts (called in many places “groundnut”) are just that, from the ground, downward, cthnonic, of the underworld. To be able to partake in what of-value they do contain requires a stripping away of the outer element to reveal the fruit within. Note that this element does not preclude the peanut of all value, rather the opposite: it is a self-apparently worthy goal to break apart the hellish armor to reveal what of-value lies inside.
On the other hand the grape represents sky, the heavens, the ouranic presence of the higher values towards which we strive. Grapes themselves cannot touch the ground in development lest they become tarnished by the hazards of being too close to the earth. They dangle, tantalizingly and seductively round and smooth and deeply colored (contrasting with the peanuts’ pale and gruff outward demeanor), enticing one to eat them and taste their vulnerable round flesh. Furthermore, grapes contain the impression of the cosmos around them: a tuned palette can detect the specific year of origin from the effects of the sun and rain, and other elements of Nature in a given growing season. In this way the grape also symbolizes Indra’s Net, an endless fabric of jewels, each reflecting every other, representing the interconnectedness of the cosmos.
The grape of course contains at its core an inedible seed, a pit, curiously in our language both a word for seed as well as for The Abyss; making it the topological opposite of the peanut: while the hazard of the grape is within, the hazard of the peanut is without. In both, this must be discarded–indeed, overcome–in order to gain the flesh (and the power) of the fruit itself.
With a peanut butter and jelly sandwich encompasses this eternal balance between ouranic and cthnoic, heaven and hell, air and earth, within the comfortable (and indeed palatable) context of bread: that most powerful symbol of civilization itself. Nearly every organized people across history has produced seemingly independently a bread or bread-equivalent, the product of harnessing nature to grow grain, exhibiting at least partial dominance over nature by pulverizing the grain and firing it. Bread of course is a neutralizing element, the substrate on which the sandwich is built, at once giving it form as well as adding almost nothing–bread in itself is not and can not be a sandwich. The sandwich must be created by combining the vessel with the substance (which in our case is a duality, reflecting polar opposites). The peanut butter sandwich resists any other form, two slices of bread are necessitated by the characteristics of our fillings (have you ever tried spreading jelly on top of peanut butter?). Contradictarians will be quick to point out the obvious: folding a single slice of bread in half, a sure route to a tasty (successful) half-sandwich. Alas, half a sandwich has never made anyone full, only longing for more, wistfully dreaming for the other half. Dreaming of what it would’ve been like to partake and become whole.
A final metaphorical touch is that the peanut butter jelly sandwich does not even contain the ‘raw’ forms of our heaven and hell actors, they too have been civilized into butter and jelly, thus providing us with a tasty snack, hazard-less, yet containing the full brunt of our civilization in order to produce.
Author’s note: I actually prefer strawberry to grape in my PBJs.