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Essay/Term paper: Analysis of the astronomer's wife

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Literature Essays

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Analysis of The Astronomer's Wife

In the "Astronomer's Wife" by Kay Boyle, something as simple as a
conversation with a plumber about a stopped elbow is enough to trigger an
awakening in Mrs. Katherine Ames. When Mrs. Ames realized that the plumber was
talking about something she understood (the stopped elbow), she realized that
her 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 she
is, and that some other men, like her husband, scorn people like her because
they are intellectually inclined. Previous to this discovery, Katherine did not
realize that there were different kinds of men, and therefore she did not
realize that she and her husband were mismatched. Furthermore, in her awakening,
Mrs. Ames also discovers that she, like the plumber, occupies as valuable a
place in society as the astronomer, for she does the "dirty" work to free people
like her husband to have time to think and to discover.
The scene in question takes place after Mrs. Ames has already noticed that
the plumber has a few physical characteristics that match her own (such as
blond hair), and she is talking to him as he descends into the earth. The scene
begins immediately after the plumber says "I think something has stopped the
elbow", because this phrase was one of the few things that a man has ever said
that Mrs. Ames has understood. After the plumber has descended into the ground
before the scene, Mrs. Ames is the only one left. She spends the entire
duration of this scene sitting on the grass, silently thinking and revealing her
thoughts to the audience.
During her course of thinking, Mrs. Ames makes the important discovery that
there 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, she
could not picture it nor hear", but strangely enough, when another man who
happened to be a plumer spoke of his work, "madness in a daily shape, as elbow
stopped, she saw clearly and well". Mrs Ames finally realized during these
thoughts that these were two men with two different ways of life, and perhaps
her way of life suited the plumber's more than the astronomer's, in that she too
could identify only with daily concerns. The division between people in her
mind was no longer just between men and women; it was now the working and the
thinking, those who "had always gone up, [and] others who went down, like the
corporeal being of the dead". She now recognized that there were both physical
and spiritual human beings, herself and the plumber being the former, and her
husband being the latter.
The theme is revealed in the way that these two classes of people, the
toilers and the thinkers, react to the world. The people who work with their
hands, when they see "weeds springing up, [do] not move to tear them up from
life". In other words, people like Mrs, Ames, upon recognizing something that
occupies 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 the
more beautiful flower is. However, people like the astronomer "could balance
and divide, weed out, destroy". This indicates that people with lofty ambitions,
like the astronomer, do not regard the common people as necessary for the world
to run smoothly, and would rather obliterate them. The astronomer does not
realize that by unclogging pipes and performing other such chores, those people
have allowed him to be free to think about large-scale problems. Interaction
between 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 the
often forgotten point that both the practical people and the ambitious dreamers
are important for each other's survival. While Mrs. Ames perhaps could never
get along without her husband, it was no fault of her own that she didn't. She
provided a comfortable existance for the astronomer so that he would be free to
do his work, and the marriage would have been happier if Mr. Ames recognized
all that she had done, and had considered her lifestyle a valid one. Of course
an understanding was never reached, because otherwise the author would not have
been able to illustrate the similar conflicts that exist in today's society so


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