“I Stand Here Ironing” by Olson
Tillie Olson’s “I Stand Here Ironing” is a short story that takes place during the Great Depression about a mother that is ironing while speaking on the phone with an unnamed individual who is most likely a social worker, teacher, or counselor. The mother moves the iron back-and-forth to her own mental process as she considers the cautionary statement made by this outside party. The person has asked the narrator to help him or her understand the narrator’s daughter, Emily, who is a young woman whom the person claims is in need of serious assistance. She believes that she has no special insight into Emily’s behavior simply because she is her mother. The narrator feels she would become mired in the abstractions of the situation, all the things she should have done or those things that cannot be altered. When Emily was eight months old, the narrator was forced to leave her in the care of a neighbor. Emily’s father had left unexpectedly, unable to bear the family’s poverty. Eventually, the narrator sent Emily to live with her father’s family. Emily returned to her mother’s care when she was two, but the narrator worked long hours and placed Emily in day care. The narrator eventually remarries and has four more children, yet another reason Emily struggles along with schoolwork and her health. The narrator also struggles with regrets and wished she were a better mother for Emily. Olson uses the narrator’s series of unfortunate events to show that life is all about having confidence and knowing with strong potential, anything is possible. The narrator, the main character, becomes stronger and more independent as the storyline progresses; she is described as a “forty five year old woman” who struggled severely while she puts her life back together after her husband left her to raise Emily alone during the midst of the Great Depression. After her first husband left her, she struggled with raising Emily, who is the supporting character and...
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