Analysis of The Astronomer’s WifeIn the “Astronomer’s Wife” by Kay Boyle, something as simple as aconversation with a plumber about a stopped elbow is enough to trigger anawakening in Mrs. Katherine Ames. When Mrs.
Ames realized that the plumber wastalking about something she understood (the stopped elbow), she realized thather marital problems were not the result of a division betwwen the sexes;instead, she realized that some men, like the plumber, are as practical as sheis, and that some other men, like her husband, scorn people like her becausethey are intellectually inclined. Previous to this discovery, Katherine did notrealize that there were different kinds of men, and therefore she did notrealize that she and her husband were mismatched. Furthermore, in her awakening,Mrs. Ames also discovers that she, like the plumber, occupies as valuable aplace in society as the astronomer, for she does the “dirty” work to free peoplelike her husband to have time to think and to discover.The scene in question takes place after Mrs. Ames has already noticed thatthe plumber has a few physical characteristics that match her own (such asblond hair), and she is talking to him as he descends into the earth. The scenebegins immediately after the plumber says “I think something has stopped theelbow”, because this phrase was one of the few things that a man has ever saidthat Mrs. Ames has understood.
After the plumber has descended into the groundbefore the scene, Mrs. Ames is the only one left. She spends the entireduration of this scene sitting on the grass, silently thinking and revealing herthoughts to the audience.During her course of thinking, Mrs.
Ames makes the important discovery thatthere is a whole race of practical people like herself, men and women alike.She knew that “when her husband spoke of height, having no sense of it, shecould not picture it nor hear”, but strangely enough, when another man whohappened to be a plumer spoke of his work, “madness in a daily shape, as elbowstopped, she saw clearly and well”. Mrs Ames finally realized during thesethoughts that these were two men with two different ways of life, and perhapsher way of life suited the plumber’s more than the astronomer’s, in that she toocould identify only with daily concerns. The division between people in hermind was no longer just between men and women; it was now the working and thethinking, those who “had always gone up, and others who went down, like thecorporeal being of the dead”. She now recognized that there were both physicaland spiritual human beings, herself and the plumber being the former, and herhusband being the latter.
The theme is revealed in the way that these two classes of people, thetoilers and the thinkers, react to the world. The people who work with theirhands, when they see “weeds springing up, do not move to tear them up fromlife”. In other words, people like Mrs, Ames, upon recognizing something thatoccupies the same position in society that they do, such as the often ill-regarded weed, do not feel compelled to destroy it.
Weeds, like the workers,although considered ugly, are as necessary for nature to be in balance as themore beautiful flower is. However, people like the astronomer “could balanceand divide, weed out, destroy”. This indicates that people with lofty ambitions,like the astronomer, do not regard the common people as necessary for the worldto run smoothly, and would rather obliterate them. The astronomer does notrealize that by unclogging pipes and performing other such chores, those peoplehave allowed him to be free to think about large-scale problems. Interactionbetween the two types of people is necessary, whether either one realizes it,for the world to function.The “Astronomer’s Wife” is an excellent short story that brings out theoften forgotten point that both the practical people and the ambitious dreamersare important for each other’s survival.
While Mrs. Ames perhaps could neverget along without her husband, it was no fault of her own that she didn’t. Sheprovided a comfortable existance for the astronomer so that he would be free todo his work, and the marriage would have been happier if Mr. Ames recognizedall that she had done, and had considered her lifestyle a valid one.
Of coursean understanding was never reached, because otherwise the author would not havebeen able to illustrate the similar conflicts that exist in today’s society sowell.