Growing Up In I Stand Here Ironing

1288 words - 5 pages

Growing up

The oppression of women by society has never been a secret. Many times it has been documented in works of literature, and one classical example of this occurrence is "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen. This story illustrates the consequences of oppression in women's lives.

The story leads the reader on an exploratory journey to witness the neglect by Emily's extremely guilty mother. This is described by the children's cry when they are left with strangers, lacking attention and love due to the fact she is a single parent at a time where this was not commonly accepted in the community, causing a lot of emotional distress.

The mother's pain and torment is apparent from the very beginning of the story. Her realization that she could have been a better mother, had it not been for the circumstances and life events which occurred following Emily's birth, such as the father who dealt with his parental responsibility by leaving - "Her father left me before she was a year old. I had to work her first six years when there was work, or I sent her home and to his relatives" (Olsen, 373). The mother does, however, continually "shift" back and forth, as the metaphor of "ironing" implies, to invoke pity from the reader and explain that there were other people, and factors which played a significant role in Emily's upbringing.

Purposely organized in a non chronological way, it illustrates the shifting, which is the passing back and forth of Emily emotionally (allowing the nursery, school teacher, and hospital staff play the primary care giver) and physically (the baby-sitter, the father's family, etc) distress. Emily's mother seems to be constantly blaming her troubles and circumstances for the less than adequate mothering role, proving that the requested parent-teacher conference would be of no outcome.

The mother continually occupies herself with the tedious task of ironing as a way of coping and "smoothing out" within herself the issues surrounding her daughter's life, while not really dealing with them. There is irony in this story in that it begins with a nineteen-year old Emily, the same age of the mother at Emily's birth, "I was nineteen. It was the pre-relief, pre-WPA world of depression" (Olsen, 368). The societal changes and different expectations for women are illustrated through the description of Emily as a single college student and assertive, while her mom was a product of the 1930's, uneducated, forced to work very young to make ends meet.

While Emily has the advantage of a contemporary upbringing, she is still vulnerable and fearful as an adult, as she was a lonely, sick and unpopular child. "When she finally came I hardly knew her, walking quick and nervous like her father, looking like her father, thin, and dressed in a shoddy red that yellowed her skin and glared at the pockmarks" (Olsen, 368).

In many ways, the mother has control over Emily's destiny, which seems to relinquish weakly. For...

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