4 Oct 2015
The Iron (Fist) of the Circumstance
“I Stand Here Ironing”, by Tillie Olsen, is a story told by an unnamed mother who struggles to balance family and financial stability. The mother retells her experience raising Emily, the oldest daughter of the family, who faces both emotional and physical hardships such as depression, separation from her family, and illness. Throughout the story, the mother is constantly ironing clothes, symbolising her maternal duties that ironically keep her from spending time with her family, along with being an analogy of the influence of the mother on Emily’s development.
After sending Emily off to school, the mother contemplates young Emily’s desires and personality, “I think of our…
Her mother says, “Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom – but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to know – help make it so there is cause for her to know – that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.” (834) The iron is comparable to the influence of the mother on Emily’s life: forever trying to smooth out the deep wrinkles in the dress, in the way that the mother is trying her hardest to “smooth out” hardships in Emily’s life to let Emily enjoy a better life. Emily’s mother makes some hard decisions, such as sending Emily away to a different home, but she makes these decisions with the well-being on her daughter on mind. On the flip side, the analogy can always be interpreted negatively: the iron smothers the cloth’s potential to be unique and three-dimensional, thereby turning it flat and not as vivacious. Emily’s childhood and the decisions the mother makes in regards to Emily’s upbringing have a similar effect of “flattening” Emily’s personality and mindset. The combination of a missing father figure, the absence of her mother, separation from her family, and feelings of living in the shadow of her sister all make Emily into a “child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear” (834). The mother’s words tell the audience that she believes that, although Emily’s upbringing…