(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Early in the morning, Katherine Ames steps quietly out of bed, trying not to disturb her husband—who either is still asleep or pretends to be. Mrs. Ames—as she is called throughout the story—comes “into her own possession” by beginning the day with brief exercises. She will stay busy with household duties, deeply ingrained habits that absent her from her husband’s constant, unknowable silence.

Silence is her astronomer husband’s dominant characteristic. The couple’s relationship is built on the understanding that he is a man of the mind, who spends his days studying, meditating, contemplating the heavens through his rooftop telescope, or wandering through the mountains. His constant silence informs his wife that she is part of his life only in the sense that man is “the new arching wave, and woman the undertow that suck[s] him back.” Mrs. Ames feels chided and shamed by her husband’s silence, which constantly reminds her that he is preoccupied with mysterious ideas that she can never comprehend. As a result, she has forgotten her youth; no light shines from her gray eyes.

The serving girl announces the arrival of the plumber, who has come to repair an overflowing toilet. Mrs. Ames discusses the problem with him in a grave, dignified manner. She delicately avoids using the name of the offending appliance, referring to it not as “the wash basin,” but as “the other.” After studying the situation, the plumber suggests that the pipes are stopped up, rebukingly adding that the problem would not have occurred if there were a valve. During this discussion, Mrs. Ames speaks in nervous, hushed tones, reminding the plumber that her sleeping husband should not be disturbed. She is unsettled...

(The entire section is 707 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Astronomer’s Wife’’ begins with Mrs. Katherine Ames waking up in the villa in which she lives. She calls for the...

(The entire section is 365 words.)