Style and Technique
Boyle’s short stories are characterized by fluency of language, whose fresh, striking images and metaphors give her characters’ lives a sense of immediacy. This story unfolds through a gradual revelation in relation to these metaphors rather than through crises of action. For example, the occupations of the astronomer and the plumber are metaphorically significant. An astronomer is concerned with a study of heavenly bodies, and as such, has his eyes fixed upward. Boyle’s astronomer seems completely disconnected, mentally and spiritually, from earthly matters. Furthermore, he keeps himself physically remote from even his wife, seldom speaking to her. Throughout the entire story, he remains behind his bedroom door. Mrs. Ames realizes—and tells the plumber—that her husband only goes “up,” never “down.”
The plumber’s vocation suggests several things about his role. A plumber’s attention is fixed, literally, on the earth—buried pipes and drains and such. This story’s plumber, who remains nameless, seems completely at ease with his strong, capable body and with his mission in the cavernous drain. He goes “down” readily into the earth and speaks to Mrs. Ames from within the drain. Amazed, Mrs. Ames sits “down” on the grass, and during a meditative few moments, begins to see the plumber, always “down,” as a symbol of the physical body of man, in contrast to her husband, always “up,” representing man’s mind. Through simple word choice—“up” and “down”—Boyle represents opposing planes of living. As she and the plumber enter the earth together, he has begun, metaphorically, to plumb the depths of her despair and will remedy it as easily as he repairs drains, with simple human love and communication.
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