The short story “Astronomer’s Wife” written by Kay Boyle, tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Ames, a young couple, married in their late twenties. The writer paints a picture of the couple living in surroundings where the landscape is beautiful and tranquil. The place is a perfect picture of romance but there was none shared between the two. The husband who is an astronomer loves his job more than his wife. He has her cleaning and washing and taking care of the house. She is like an old maid, tired and haggard and does not know what it is to have excitement at her age.
The story begins with Mrs. Ames doing her daily activities. She does yoga before having her coffee and the day’s activities. Mr. Ames lay in bed and either pretends to sleep or just toss and turns. He barely speaks to his wife about anything. Sometimes he just sits on the roof and looks through his telescope or wanders down the pathway to the road and out across the mountains (Boyle 28). The dominant theme in the story is about love and marriage relationship. This is brought out by the fact that although the couple, young and newly married, never seem to do things together. They do not enjoy each other’s company and rarely have conversation with each other. Mrs. Ames takes her morning coffee and does yoga by herself. Mrs. Ames discovers a leaking pipe and calls the plumber to have it fixed. This is clearly not what a dutiful husband should allow to happen. He should be handy around the house helping his wife to maintain the home. He rarely speaks or even listens to her. He is also totally unconcerned with everything that goes on in his villa.(Boyle 28).
When the plumber arrived, Mr. Ames clearly disinterested continues to sleep and ignore all that is happening around him. The plumber notices that Mrs. Ames is rather attractive and that she seems eager for attention and care. What happens next is a clear indication that there was no love between the two. This marriage lacks love, friendship and respect and leaves us to wonder what brought this couple together. There was no attention and understanding between the two. When the plumber arrived to fix the pipe, Mr. Ames remained in bed and barely paid and ignored everything that was happening around him. However, he called out to her in a disrespectful way tell her that there was something more worthwhile to attend to. “Katherine! He said in a ringing tone, there’s a problem worthy of your mettle!” (Boyle 30).
The love that is needed to make this marriage thrive was lacking. Mr. and Mrs. Ames’ marriage lacked love. Mr. Ames was so wrapped up in his work that he forgot that his wife needs love and attention. To his she could very well have been the helper in the house. Mrs. Ames resented this and despises him. The plumber speaks to her with respect and she notices how he does his job without hesitation, moving about noiselessly so as not to wake her husband. All this was not lost on her. She begins to look at him more closely and realize that she sees something in this man that was lacking in her husband. Mrs. Ames continued to listen and talk to the plumber as she realizes that she could understand what he was saying, Her husband on the other hand did not talk to her as he feels that she was not as intellectually bright.
Before the plumber came Mrs. Ames had no knowledge of other men nor did she realize that she was not compatible with her husband. She suddenly became awake and realizes that of course she is intelligent and has a place in society like everyone else. She begins to notice even the plumber’s physical appearance and realizes that they had something in common. She allows the plumber to take her hand and lead her, and she followed willingly. Previously Mrs. Ames had thought that she could not leave her husband and that she could not do without him. When he spoke Mrs. Ames heard a man telling her to trust him and that he could lead her into a better life. She went and all the time she was thinking that her husband never goes down there, he only goes up, referring to him always going up on the roof. She says, “He like going up” (Boyle 31) and she points towards the heaven. She would be safe in a better life with the plumber.
Suffering from years of neglect, the astronomer’s wife suddenly got an awakening. Perhaps her way of life was much like the plumber’s, ordinary yet important and fulfilling, and the plumber would indeed find appreciate her for who she is. Her life could be balanced by working with someone who had no problem doing manual labour. Her husband’s way was to destroy those who were not the intellectual type. The plumber brought with him something that awakened in her all the emotions that were there for years. Like the water that was overflowing from the burst pipe her thought begin to flow and overwhelm her.
Although neither the plumber nor Mrs. Ames said anything that would reveal their interests in each other, it was as if there was a bond that is common between two people who love each other. This love was never felt between the married couple. The marriage being in trouble is so forcefully brought out when Mrs. Ames continued to ignore her husband when he tried to speak to her telling her that there was something wrong and that it needed her attention. He has never tried to help her before and always ignored her silent pleas for his attention. She turned all her attention to the plumber. When he told her that the water needs to be turned off so that he could fix the problem, she replied that she had already done so. There are two things that could be deduced from this. The first is that the husband always ignores his duties and leaves everything entirely up to the wife. Secondly, this scene allows the wife to see that here was a man who, unlike her husband, who could give her everything her marriage lacks. The plumber knows what to do without question. He gave answers that were reliable, something her husband was incapable of doing.
“Astronomer’s Wife – just a Simple Complex Tale.” 123HelpMe.com
Boyle, Kay. “Astronomer’s wife. “Life being the best and other stories. Ed. Sandra Whipple
Spanier. Michigan; University of Michigan, 2006 (27-33).