In the opening paragraph of Kay Boyle’s Astronomer’s Wife, Boyle depicts a woman who is oppressed of an equal, intelligent conversation with her spouse. Mrs. Ames sees to all matters of running a successful household, while the astronomer sleeps late and is a loner. His profession makes it clear that he spends a lot of time in thought and alone in the dark at night. Boyle explains, “He was a man of other things, a dreamer. At times he lay still for hours, at others he sat upon the roof behind his telescope, or wandered down the pathway to the road and out across the mountains.”
Since the astronomer is often in his own world, Mrs. Ames is expected to cater to his needs. “That man might be each time the new arching wave, and woman the undertow that sucked him back, were things she been told by his silence were so.” This quote exemplifies how involved in his work the astronomer is. Whenever he is on the brink of a brilliant idea, she interrupts his train of thought. Therefore, she is the undertow that breaks the force of the arching wave.
The astronomer was obviously obsessed with his work leaving little time to act as a husband. The marriage appears to be one that compromises Mrs. Ames’s, and perhaps the astronomer’s, happiness. This is where the plumber is introduced and Mrs. Ames begins to find stimulation outside her marriage. 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, she in turn realized that her marital problems were not the result of a division between the sexes; instead, she avalid one. She is not happy with a man who wants to go “up” and that she rather prefers “down”. Through meeting the plumber, she recognizes this and is “called to go down”. Mrs. Ames is seeking happiness and someone in whom she can relate. She needs something that speaks to her, something that means something to her, and she wants to change.
Mrs. Ames feels a connection to the plumber. He involves her in his theory and she develops her own thoughts. Where her husband treats her as unimportant, the plumber makes her “bewildered that it should be a man who had spoken to her so”. The astronomer’s wife is trapped in a lifeless marriage and somewhere there appears a line in which she is not sure if she should cross. The plumber has made her feel like she thought no man ever could. The point is simple; Mrs. Ames has desired respect over the years and finally along comes a man that gives her that much needed self-dignity.
When one’s feelings are taken advantage of or neglected, it is natural for that person to begin to look for a beau who will nurture those needs. Whether this is an act that is carried out subconsciously or intently does not matter. In the case of Mrs. Ames it is happening without her permission, but even as she tries to deny her inner feelings and needs she finds them leaking through, like water from a pipe, and the reader begins to wonder if maybe the plumber wasn’t there just to fix a dripping wash-basin.