In the short story “I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen, the characterization of the mother and the mother’s attitudes toward her daughter are made apparent through the use of narrative techniques and other resources of language. The narrator uses symbolism, flashback, and repetition to show a bereft mother who feels helpless in the decisions regarding her daughter and her hopefully bright future.
The first sentence of the excerpt “I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron” immediately gives the reader some insight on the mother. The reader sees that the mother has to make a decision on something, with the iron at first seeming to symbolize her thoughts moving back and forth with the tormenting thought, but is actually revealed to symbolize something different as the story goes on. The use of the word “torment” implies that this thought has plagued her mind for a period of time, or that it immediately becomes a thought of great contention within herself. It also implies that the mother is not good at making important decisions, or choices in general. The issue that has entered the mother’s mind is that of her daughter’s future.
The mother immediately feels that she could not help her daughter make such major decisions, since her daughter has already lived for nineteen years and “there us all that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me.” The mother has lived a harsh life - she became a mother at the age of nineteen in a “world of depression,” and the father of her children ran away because he could not handle taking care of the family. The mother has resigned herself to the life she now lives, and that she will never be more than a mother at an ironing board.
For the daughter, however, the mother has some hope. One of the first things the mother says to the reader is in a flashback about her daughter, saying that “she was a beautiful baby,” and uses repetition to state this sentiment a few...
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