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"the Astronomer's Wife" by Kay Boyle

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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 plumber 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.



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