Astronomer's Wife

by Kay Boyle
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Katherine Ames
Mrs. Ames is the focus of the story. She is married to an astronomer whose distant, overly intellectual nature has caused her to resent him. She is the astronomer’s only real link with the day-today world, but she means little to him beside that. Longing for someone who is not wholly immersed in the life of the mind, she is intrigued by and attracted to the plumber, who stands for everything physical.

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Mr. Ames
See The Astronomer

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Latest answer posted October 19, 2013, 6:55 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Astronomer
The astronomer is married to Mrs. Ames. The narrator of the story says of the astronomer that ‘‘he was a man of other things, a dreamer.’’ He spends his life examining the heavens and attempting at all times to remain as high above the earth as possible— Mrs. Ames says that he likes being ‘‘on the roof. Or on the mountains. He’s been up on the tops of them many times.’’ He never physically appears in the story, and readers only hear from him once when he yells that there is a problem for Mrs. Ames to solve. For Mrs. Ames, he is ‘‘the mind of all mankind.’’

The Plumber
The plumber is the astronomer’s diametric opposite. Where the astronomer prefers to be up high, the plumber goes down into the pipes below the ground. He is described by his physical attributes, and at one point the narrator suggests that he is ‘‘brutal,’’ clearly playing on the animal meaning of the word ‘‘brute.’’ Mrs. Ames is attracted to him for his physicality, but at the same time he pays attention to her, looks her in the eye when he speaks to her, and treats her politely and pleasantly. At the end of the story, he speaks of a cow he once owned who lost her cud. ‘‘I made her another in no time,’’ he tells Mrs. Ames, ‘‘out of flowers and things and whatnot.’’ In a sense, Mrs. Ames is that cow, and the plumber wants to give her back an important element of her life—an engagement with the physical world—that she has lost.

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