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«ASTRONOMER'S WIFE» by KAY BOYLE
The text under consideration is called «Astronomer's Wife» written by Kay Boyle. Three characters are involved in the story: the astronomer, his wife, and the plumber.
At the very beginning of the story we got acquainted with the married couple, the astronomer and his wife. The whole story is connected with the overflow that happened in their house. And we should note the overflow is symbolic here – how on we'll prove this idea.
So, the author in his work penetrates deeply into the psychology of his heroes and gives us their accurate characterization. We come to conclusion that the astronomer was a person of a romantic mind and belonged to the heavens. As the author writes: «he was a man of other things, a dreamer. At time he lay still for hours upon roof behind the telescope». We feel that the atmosphere between the husband and the wife isn't warm, there's no mutual understanding between them. To emphasize this idea
the author uses the epithet that describes exact relations between them: «the impenetrable silence of his brow». In fact, his wife was unable to understand him, and perhaps she had no desire to penetrate into his thoughts. Here we should give an example of another epithet that arrests the reader's attention: «the mystery and silence of her husband's mind lay like a chiding finger on her lips». The sentence proves the astronomer's dominance. Mrs. Ames was in awe of her husband, and that's
why she was so passive. As for astronomer, he didn't treat her on equal terms «that man might be each time the new arching wave, and woman the undertow that sucked him back, were things she had been told by his silence were so».
This metaphor shows that Mr. Ames considered his wife inferior, but at the same time he needed her as a servant and she would be absent from him all the day in being clean, busy, kind. Mrs. Ames in comparison with her husband was a person of practical mind. She was in charge of household chores. Moreover, she did the things the man is usually in charge of and it was she who received the plumber. And Mrs. Ames was rather weak, oppressed, sick and tired. «Her eyes were gray, for the light had been
extinguished in them». Speaking about her, the author emphasizes such characteristic feature of hers as softness. For example, the author resorts to repetition (anadiplosis). «She said softly, softly down the flight of stairs» similar and alliteration «speaking soft as a willow weeping».
Mrs. Ames is shy, soft, gently, uncertain. And her softness makes her suffer and it evokes in us the sense of pity. Suffice it to remember the episode, where she received the plumber, she repeated her name 3 times: «Ah, I'm Mrs. Ames» she said softly. Mrs. Ames wanted the plumber to acknowledge her personality, because no one did it before. Once again the author shows her uncertainty, shyness, softness. But at the same time Mrs. Ames was passive as I've mentioned, she wasn't ready for revolt
and she did nothing to release herself from her pattern of life. Perhaps at the back of her mind she admired her husband, considered him as a genius. And she cherished him, took care of him. She was so absorbed in her work that even forgot about herself. She was a youngish woman, but this she had forgotten». The inversion is used here to underline the idea, that her husband was the only interest of her life, and she even had no time to think about herself.
The author admires her patience, her ability to endure all the tortures. And he compares her with the saint. «The strange him halo of her yellow hair». Besides the author tries to say that she was innocent, as the saints are always innocent. This idea is carried through such epithets as youngish, childish. She wear a scarlet smock and kid slippers. But those words prove the idea that she was like a child, and children are always innocent.
The image of the plumber is invaded in the story deliberately. The author wanted to oppose it to the image of the astronomer. While describing the plumber, the author is direct in characterization, here we come across the narrative description with the judgement: «the plumber was a tough, hardy man, but he took off his hat when he spoke to her and looked her fully, almost insolently in the eye». The plumber was an industrious man who spoke straightforwardly. He treated Mrs. Ames with respect.
His speech, his behaviour and appearance touched her flesh and bone and made her wonder. The plumber was man enough and Mrs. Ames understood, that her husband wasn't the only man in the world. She turned out to be useless, he deceived all her expectations. The overflow and the appearance of the plumber is the decisive moment in Katherine's life. As I've said, the overflow is symbolic. We can judge it as the complication of the story. The overflow opened her eyes. It was like a push for her to act, to change
something in her life. Inner conflict took place in her mind. Now she feels shame for her husband. She becomes aware of the fact that her husband isn't a match for her, he doesn't suit her. «Everything the astronomer ever said to her was a continuous query to which there could be no response». One can also notice the struggle between the astronomer and the plumber. The fight for Katherine, not physically but mentally. For example, the plumber is rather ironical towards the astronomer, he mocks
at him. This idea is carried through the way he speaks, we can't but admire the author's exact usage of the epithets: He said rather bitterly, and the plumber said brutally.
Though Mr. Ames does and says nothing, he is always present in their speech, in their mind. And he also struggles for that woman in his own way. So that to show us the psychological state of Mrs. Ames, the author resorts the inner speech: «Life, life is an open sea, and to survive women cling to the floating debris on the tide». Mrs. Ames was oppressed, tired and weak. But she was a woman, and as every woman she wanted tenderness, respect, love, she wanted to survive and she clung to the floating
debris. She chose freedom, happiness, and went down into the heart of the earth with the plumber. At the end of the story we come across the allegory about the cow and the cud. The cow symbolizes here Mrs. Ames, and the cud – her interest in life. The plumber made the cow another cut, and so he returned Mrs. Ames back to life, he made her believe that she is a woman.
So we can say that no one can be patient for a long time. Patience has its borders. A person should be treated as a person, not as a servant. Every woman needs tenderness, respect and love. And every man should cherish his wife.
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