In the opening paragraph of Kay Boyle's Astronomer's Wife, Boyle depicts a woman who is oppressed of an equal, intelligent conversation with her spouse. Mrs. Ames sees to all matters of running a successful household, while the astronomer sleeps late and is a loner. His profession makes it clear that he spends a lot of time in thought and alone in the dark at night. Boyle explains, "He was a man of other things, a dreamer. At times he lay still for hours, at others he sat upon the roof behind his telescope, or wandered down the pathway to the road and out across the mountains." Since the astronomer is often in his own world, Mrs. Ames is expected to cater to his needs. "That man might be each time the new arching wave, and woman the undertow that sucked him back, were things she been told by his silence were so."
This quote exemplifies how involved in his work the astronomer is. Whenever he is on the brink of a brilliant idea, she interrupts his train of thought. Therefore, she is the undertow that breaks the force of the arching wave.
The astronomer was obviously obsessed with his work leaving little time to act as a husband. The marriage appears to be one that compromises Mrs. Ames's, and perhaps the astronomer's, happiness. This is where the plumber is introduced and Mrs. Ames begins to find stimulation outside her marriage. Something as simple as a conversation with a plumber about a stopped elbow is enough to trigger an awakening in Mrs. Katherine Ames. When Mrs. Ames realized that the plumber was talking about something she understood, she in turn realized that her marital problems were not the result of a division between the sexes; instead, she avalid one.