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Written by Erin Fishman
Epiphanies are a major theme in "Astronomer's Wife," as Mrs. Ames realizes the extent of her dysfunctional marriage as well as her unhapiness. The introduction of the plumber leads her to both of these important realizations. They contribute to the change seen in Mrs. Ames' character, bringing back her sense of rebellion and excitement as she ventures physically and metaphorically into the unknown. She is the only dynamic character in the story.
Intellect vs. Emotion
As featured in many pieces of literature, two opposing forces, the head and the heart, are at play here. They are manifested in the astronomer and the plumber, whose stark contrasts are seen in how they act throughout the story.
The plumber, or the "head" acts based on facts and logic. His profession is very black-and-white, while the astronomer's work is open to interpretation and theory. The plumber is assertive and outspoken, taking a traditional "alpha male" approach in his interactions with Mrs. Ames.
The astronomer, or the "heart" is a dreamer with his head in the clouds. He spends more time unraveling mysteries and revels in the "gray area" of life. In the process, he ignores and shuns his wife as well as any other chance of human interaction. His work is based on the unknown; the vast and unexplored universe. The astronomer uses his words sparingly, taking a lot of time to ponder and collect his thoughts. His demeanor both fasincates and irritates Mrs. Ames, who has taken a back seat to his studies.
Confinement in Marriage
Marriage is another important theme in the story. From the beginning, it becomes clear that the marriage between Mr and Mrs. Ames is loveless; Mr Ames real love affair occurs with his work. Confinement in marriage is explored as Mrs. Ames grapples with the reality of her loneliness.
The crumbling marriage inspires important changes that occur in Mrs. Ames. She becomes more assertive at the end of the story, for once putting her own interests before her husband's. Before, she had to rehearse her dialogue before saying it, constantly second-guessing her thoughts and actions. She panders to her husband's needs while he sleeps the day away and ignores her during his waking hours. The end of the story sees a spark of recklesness and youth that Mrs. Ames had thought was lost.
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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.