I Stand Here Ironing

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A Theme is Controlled Though the Setting and the Atmosphere

In the short story “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen there is an atmosphere which has an overwhelming feeling of torment and a sense of regret. Taking place during the 1930s and 1940s a single mother has to cope with the Great Depression, WWII, and the feminist movement of the 1950s while raising her first born daughter Emily. A conflict is created by the lack of understanding the single teenage mother has for raising her first child. The theme that arises from this story is that to what extent can a mother be held responsible for her child’s problems, and that society must take some responsibility. “She is a child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear.” This quotation appears at the end of the second-to-last paragraph, which is preceded by the narrator’s exhortation regarding Emily to “Let her be.” The narrator says this because she does not take full responsibility for the outcome of Emily’s life. The Great Depression had left its mark, creating massive poverty and unemployment. Being unemployed and without any financial relief the narrator is left to face the world alone This meant Emily was to face her own world alone for most of her childhood while her mother struggled to keep a job. The war created fear in America, even with a victory of WWII the proceeding Cold War only made it worse. The narrator feels somewhat cheated that the world Emily was raised in was a cruel and harsh one. Though the narrator blames society and the world for the way Emily is she also blames herself. She takes responsibility for some of the things that had gone wrong in Emily’s life, but tells herself that she had no choice but to work late hours and lose her time with Emily. Through all this Emily grew up to be gloomy with a lack of popularity, and low self-esteem. The narrator though chooses to describe Emily as a sensitive, thoughtful, and selfless individual who has survived through a terrible...
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