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Written by Erin Fishman
Mrs. Ames is the wife of an astronomer. She is timid and obedient to her husband, who gives her little attention. Her loneliness has caused her to lose her youthfulness, taking the glow from her gray eyes "as if the light had been extinguished in them." Little is said of her physical appearance, though it is stated that she has a "strange, dim halo of yellow hair."
In between bouts of silence from her husband, Mrs. Ames busies herself with housework. It becomes clear that she rarely receives company. When the plumber arrives at her home she nervously begins to practice what she will say to him, repeating "I am Mrs. Ames... I am Mrs. Ames."
After the arrival of the plumber, Mrs. Ames feels a sort of thrill as she finally receives attention. She admires his confidence and general manner of presentation, serving as a foil to her husband.
Toward the end of the story, she regains her childlike wonder as she descends into the ground with the plumber. The interaction with the plumber is a reprieve from her stale, dissolving marriage.
The astronomer lives a quiet, reserved lifestyle. He rarely speaks to his wife, leaving her distressed and lonely. In the first lines of the story, the astronomer sleeps the day away while Mrs. Ames completes housework.
He becomes consumed by his work, taking precedence over his marriage. Mrs. Ames once wonders if his silence is due to his mind working through profound mysteries of the universe, leaving little time for anything else. Still, she remains stupefied by his silence.
His only line of dialogue in the story involves him yelling for his wife from his room: "'Katherine!' said the astronomer in a ringing tone. 'There's a problem worthy of your mettle!'" For once, Katherine ignores his request and instead leads the plumber outside. It is an example of the dysfunction of their marriage; the astronomer only speaks to her when he needs something, or when it is convenient for him.
Shortly after the plumber's introduction, it becomes clear that he is everything the astronomer is not: bold, assertive, and outspoken. While the astronomer is dependent and idle, the plumber is described as a "tough, hardy man." He approaches the flooding issue in the house with confidence, never faltering in his actions.
Mrs. Ames is fascinated by his direct nature and the attention he gives to her. The way he addresses her straddles the line of being chastising, as if speaking to a child, and simply confident. He seems to practice traditional male gender roles, originally telling her that the job of fixing the sewage lines is for "a man who knows what's what." Yet, at the end of the story, he brings her down into the sewer with him, a bold and uncharacteristic action of Mrs. Ames.
His attention to her seems to bring out a new side of childlike wonder and flirtatiousness in Mrs. Ames. When he fixes his eyes on her, Mrs. Ames wonders if it is a look of "insolence, or gentleness, or love."
In the last line of the story, Mrs. Ames admits that she fully believes what the plumber says. She takes his story about the cow as truth out of admiration for him, without truly knowing if it is a lie.
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Astronomer's Wife study guide contains a biography of Kay Boyle, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of several short stories including The Astronomer's Wife.