The Development of Relations between a Man and a Woman in Three Stories Analysis

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The three stories, “The Astronomer’s Wife,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and “Shiloh,” each explore the evolving of a man’s relationship with a woman and the collision of two worlds, which come together, forcing the characters to choose between them.  These stories bring together two people with a joined history and allows a third person to be the instrument of change between them.  The symbolic use of movement illustrates the movement of the characters from where they were to where they are going.  These combined thematic views serve to work together to generate an image of the evolution of the male/female relationship and the transition of a character from one mental state to another.

In Kaye Boyle’s “The Astronomer’s Wife,” the wife, Mrs. Ames, is described peripherally: she is defined by her position as the astronomer’s wife and does not have her own identity.  She is emotionally dead and wakens to each day as an “evil moment” because she knows that every day will be the same.  Her husband retains a distance between them by not speaking to his wife and maintaining his position above her.  He makes her like she is less important than him and is dominant in his superiority.  His silence further establishes his perceived superiority – what he has to say is so far above his wife’s comprehension, he cannot be bothered to say anything at all.

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In Mrs. Ames’ world, the man is above everything and the woman must maintain the workings of the house, as the man cannot be bothered.  The only time her husband speaks, it is to chide her, “’Katherine!” said the astronomer in a ringing tone.  “There’s a problem worthy of your mettle!’” (64).  He informs her and the plumber that the only things she is capable of dealing with are on the level of a clogged drain – she is incapable of higher thought (Callarman, 85).  She feels rebuked by her husband and her face flushes in embarrassment: “When the sun in the garden struck her face, he saw there was a wave of color in it, but this may have been anything but shame” (64).  Mrs. Ames, Katherine, would prefer her husband’s silence to his berating and the fancy thoughts he expresses about illusions and ideas that are not tangible

Mrs. Ames believes that all men are like her husband – distant and elevated over anything menial, and therefore believes that her husband should be the one who should speak to the plumber, thinking herself incapable of understanding what the plumber says as men believe, and have so far proven to be, that they are above her level of reasoning and ability: “’I’m sorry–I’m sorry that my husband,’ she said, ‘is still–resting and cannot go into this with you.  I’m sure it must be very interesting. . . .’” (64).  Mrs. Ames’ answer is that her husband does not go “down,” “he likes going up . . . ‘On the roof.  Or on the mountains.  He’s been up on the top of them many times’” (64).  He does not descend into the lower things that are part of his wife’s world.  But the plumber does and she begins to see that not all men are like her husband

  When she meets the plumber, she realizes that some men are more like her and deal with the everyday workings of life.  She is confused to how she can have a logical, rational – and understandable – conversation with a man: “She . . . [was] bewildered that it should be a man who had spoken to her so” (65).  It was an amazing thing to be putting forth logical questions “to which true answers are given” to a man as she had never done so with her husband (65).  As she speaks to the plumber, she begins to realize that not all men are like her husband, some represent the mind and some are the “meat of mankind” (65).

The plumber tells her that any problem as a solution, you just had to look for it.  This concept is foreign to Mrs. Ames who is accustomed  to a different response.  The experience she had with the plumber allows her to realize that she does not need to live in her husband’s world but can live in her own.  She begins to fee youthful again and seems to be embracing life where before she felt rundown and stuck in a monotony of life.  When she asks the maidservant to deliver a message to her husband that she has gone down.  She has gone into the real tangible world that her husband does not occupy.  She now has a world of her own.

Ascend and descend are treated in an ironic way.  Usually, ascend is a good thing – ascending to God and descend is evil, going to the devil.  “Whereas her husband had always gone up, as the dead go, she knew now that there were others who went down, like the corporeal being of the dead” (65).   Here, ascend also means to live outside the tangible world whereas descend is to live among real things and people.

When “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” the entire town is affected by the result and it changes the future of the town.  Stephen Crane’s story examines the shifting of two worlds: the wild west versus the civilized east.  The bride, who rarely speaks, is the instrument of change: it is because of her that Scratchy does not do what he usually does.  The concept of marriage is foreign to Scratchy as he does not comprehend it.  It is the impetus for Potter to change as well as the change of Scratchy.

When Potter travels to San Antonio, he does so to woo his bride and marries her out of impulse while there.  On the train trip back, he begins to regret his decision not to tell the town where he was going, feeling certain that they would be angry that he had not done so.  As Potter move from east to west, he is moving emotionally from the old west to the unavoidable expanse of civilization.  Potter has changed; he does not fight Scratchy as he normally would have.  He instead embraces his new life as a married man and tells Scratchy that he has no guns.  He is not carrying them because he was married – he had become civilized.

When he faces Scratch in the street outside his home, he admits he does not have a weapon, as eastern gentlemen often do not carry them.  Scratchy, so used to Potter facing him and always carrying a gun, believes that Potter is lying to him: “Don’t you tell me you ain’t got no gun on you, you whelp. Don’t tell me no lie like that. There ain’t a man in Texas ever seen you without no gun” (490).

When Potter explains to Scratchy that he is not carrying a weapon because he has just been wed and was bringing his bride to his home.  This is a foreign concept to Scratchy, the last hold out of thee town’s wilder days.  When Scratchy finally accepts the concept of marriage, he puts his gun away and wanders off down the street, finally realizing that his west, his place of sanctity, has changed permanently.  If his old nemesis will not face him, then the world must really have changed forever.  To Scratchy, the marriage means “it’s all off now” (490).  The west has changed and he must change with it.  It is beyond his comprehension.  “Wife is important not because of who she is but because she represents civilization and its evolving.  She is the reason that Scratchy does not shoot, or marriage is.  It symbolizes the changing west as the gunfight is averted in atypical fashion (Erksine, 316).

The west has already changed, but Scratchy is determined to preserve “the good old days” and only when confronted with unavoidable proof that it had changed did he begin to accept it.  The drummer represents the civilization of the west – he cannot comprehend the ways of the west just as Scratch cannot accept that the west is not what it was.  In addition, Scratchy is like a child and often described in childlike terms.  He plays with the town and is a “simple child of his earlier plains” (490).  Potter defeats Scratchy with marriage while scratchy has six guns.  He slumps off in defeat much like the west was defeated and overcome with civilization (Moses).

The story “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason, is the story of a husband and wife and their exchanged gender roles as well as the shifting position of their marriage.  Norma Jean, formerly undisciplined and the woman of the house, has begun to have more masculine qualities in order to bring a sense of order into her life.  Her husband has just returned home after fifteen years on the road and is injured and afraid to return to his previous job.  She begins weight lifting and exercise to transform her body into a new one, a hard one.  She is also attempting to change into a different woman.  She takes composition classes and body building lessons.  She is slowing changing. Norma Jean is trying to change, she is unsatisfied with her old life and is trying to change to improve it, but she no longer fits in with Leroy’s life and she no longer wants to be married.

Leroy is also evolving into a different person.  He used to be the man’s man – a truck driver on the road most of the year.  Now, he is home doing craftwork and needlepoint, using as his excuse that “all the big football players on TV do it” (486).  Mabel is not convinced and mocks him, “You don’t know what to do with yourself – that’s the whole trouble.  Sewing! (486). He keeps announcing that he is going to build them a log cabin and Norma Jean persistently refuses, saying that they would never permit one inside the new subdivision.

He longs to build a log cabin because he sees it as a chance to start over and begin anew.  He feels that he does not know his wife anymore and that “they have known so long they have forgotten a lot about each other” (488).  As the story moves forward, he begins to take his fantasy world and convert it into reality.  He thinks of ways to pay for it and mentions that he wants to sell his rig.  He orders plans for a log cabin and practices building them with Lincoln Logs.  He is trying to embrace a new world where he and Norma Jean can live together and get to know each other again.  He is in denial as to the depth of the rift between them.

When Norma Jean and Leroy travel to Shiloh, each is looking for a different thing.  Norma Jean is trying to appease her mother but does not expect any change in her relationship with Leroy, whereas Leroy sees the journey as an opportunity to start over with Norma Jean and begin their marriage again.  He realizes that he should not have been planning and pushing for a log cabin, that Norma Jean would not be happy there.  When she mentions that she wants out of the marriage, Leroy resists, but Norma Jean is insistent and move away from him.  He cannot keep up with her, much like he is not keeping up with her emotionally or symbolically.  She reaches the edge and waves her arms where she must choose whether or not she going to fly like a bird or drown herself, thereby selecting neither life (Cook, 197).

All three stories represent different aspects of men.  “The Astronomer’s Wife” shows how a husband reduces his wife to a position beneath him, relegating her to a second-class citizen.  She has subjugated her own personality and accepts living in her husband’s world until the end, when she finally finds a world of her own (Barnhisel, 133).  In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” the bride pretends that everything her husband says is new to her, she is being amiable and saying what she believes he wants to hear or expects from her.  In this way, she is alienating her own personality and knowledge to that of her husband.  Here the husband is present within his bride’s world, he treats her more as equals (Moses, 122).  These newlyweds were very much in love and happy to be together.  Unlike astronomer’s wife who was unhappy in her marriage and felt every day was the same (Petry, 46).  “Shiloh” examines a husband and wife on the precipice of the end, until they travel to Shiloh and Norma Jean announces her intentions.  Their roles had previously been that he worked on the road and she took care of the house, cooking his favorite foods when he was home and taking care of him.  When he comes “home to roost” like his rig, she rebels and moves away from him.  They had previously had a contented life mostly apart, but faced with being together all the time, she moves away.  Their roles had reversed and she was now the dominant one in the relationship (Blythe, 52).

In each story, a third party was the instrument of change in one of the other characters.  “The Astronomer’s Wife” illustrates how the plumber connects with Mrs. Ames and shows her that there is another world besides her husband’s.  She moves into that world by “descending” while her husband remains up (Callarman, 241).  The plumber was the impetus for that change.  In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” the bride herself is the impetus of change for Scratchy.  The wife is not important as a woman, she is a symbol of marriage and civilization and that changes Scratchy. Mrs. Ames is detached from her emotions and begins to reinvent them as the story proceeds; however, Scratchy is challenged by logic and is forced to change his way of thinking, much like the wife changed her way of thinking.  In contrast, Norma Jean and Leroy both change within the context of the story and Mabel is the means of that change.  It is her catching Norma Jean smoking and pushing them to travel to Shiloh that persuades Norma Jean that she wants out of her marriage.

These three stories are about people who are trying to fit into one place or hold onto one idea and change into someone else.  In “Shiloh,” Norma Jean is trying to change into another person because her life has turned upside down, Leroy has changed too into a more feminine person and both are on the brink of changing their entire lives, not just physically but emotionally.  “Shiloh” ends with the couple divided, whereas both “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and “The Astronomer’s Wife” conclude with the woman remaining in the marriage, one with the bride by his side and the other with the bride reaching out to a new world of her own.  Each story has something new to reveal about marriage and change and use movement to move toward a different world.

Works Cited

Barnhisel, Greg. “Critical Essay on ‘Astronomer’s Wife.’” Short Stories for Students. New York: The Gale Group, 2001. 132-136.

Blythe, Hal and Charlie Sweet.  “Mason’s Shiloh.” Explicator. Fall 2001, Vol. 60 Issue 1, 52-54.

Callarman, Judith. “Astronomer’s Wife.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition.  New York: Salem Press, Inc., 2004. 240-245.

Cook, Stewart.  “Mason’s Shiloh.” Explicator.  Spring93, Vol. 51 Issue 3, 196-199.

Erksine, Thomas L. “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.”  Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition.  New York: Salem Press, Inc., 2004.  315-324.

Gronning, Robyn M.  “Boyle’s ‘Astronomer’s Wife.’” Explicator. Spring88, Vol. 46 Issue 3, 51-53. 84-86.

Moses, Edwin.  “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition.  New York: Salem Press, Inc., 2007. 122-124.

Petry, Alice.  “Crane’s ‘The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.’” Explicator. Fall83, Vol. 42 Issue 1, 45-48.

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