The mother criticizes and blames herself for this, causing tension in their already stressful relationship. The mother is obviously suffering from guilt and wretched memories of Emily suffering. Emily, too, is suffering. We see her stiffness towards all that care for her, her quietness in her daily duities, and her feelings of worthlessness towards herself.
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She feels that she is extremely ugly and stupid, and constantly compares herself to her adorable younger sister, Susan, who has the perfect Shirley Temple image. And, as the mother stands there ironing, she contemplates her daughter and the troubles that they have. The constant motion of the ironing is like a sedative to the mother, as it calms her greatly.
Because ironing is such a monotonous job, the mother has time to think her disturbing thoughts. Thus, the theme of coming to terms with and overcoming the past hardships emerges. Personally, I have a hard time relating to the whole story. I can understand, but I cant really internalize them. She can never "total it all. What stands out in the narrator's depiction of Emily is how she emphasizes the differences between them. She refuses to be considered a "key" to unlocking the girl - Emily is too separate from her, owing both to their different personalities and their years spent apart during Emily's childhood years.
Therefore, it is possible to understand the narrator's quest here as one to not only understand Emily, but also to define herself. In telling her story, the narrator is trying to transcend her identity as a parent, to declare herself as a more complete and complex individual who has also suffered the types of disappointments that now haunt her daughter. In particular, the narrator seems to understand her story as one of a female.
It is telling that the only male mentioned in the story is a helpless infant; men have been of little use to the narrator in her life, outside of the second husband's financial support.
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Emily's childhood struggles can easily be understood in terms of gender, particularly in terms of the "Shirley Temple" ideal that she does not easily represent. Because a woman is expected to be beautiful, Emily entered society handicapped. That her pain can be explained by social forces means little; all that matters to society is whether she is beautiful. Seen this way, the mother is celebrating Emily's ability to transcend these expectations through comic performance, to find an identity that refuses oppression.
This idea, of the repressed female, provides a unifying thread throughout "I Stand Here Ironing," and much of Tillie Olsen 's other work. In giving the overburdened stay-at-home mother a voice, Tillie Olsen performs a great feat, by raising awareness of an entire facet of the population.
The narrative does not shy away from this purpose. For instance, Emily jokes that a painted portrait of her mother would include an ironing board. This simple joke reminds us how trapped the mother has been by both social forces and expectations, which have required any of her talents to be subsumed into a woman's duties.
It is telling that the mother is never given a name, as though to suggest her identify has been quashed by the forces outside of her.
I Stand Here Ironing, By Tillie Olsen
Though she has her performance to distinguish her, Emily too reflects these pressures. The narrator insists that the girl's seeming joyousness actually masks an underlying solemnity. Try as she might, Emily understands the forces that oppress her. Having had to be a mother from an unusually young age, she knows how hard a woman must work to be recognized, and this realization had skewed her perspective much as it has her mother's.
It is useful to understand these themes in terms of the story's social and historical context. These forces exacerbated the family's crippling poverty. World War II, in particular, created an interesting situation for women. On the one hand, it liberated women somewhat, as women were called to replace men in the workforce while men fought this situation reversed once men returned.
On the other hand, World War II also widowed many mothers, creating a slew of new pressures. Emily references one of the war's biggest legacies towards the story's end - the atom bomb. Here, the atom bomb functions as a metaphor for the crushing power of cultural forces. What does it matter if Emily and her mother are individuals, when at any moment, they can be crushed and destroyed, either by oppressive outside forces or nuclear war? The narrator is saddened to admit that Emily has not been fully able to transcend the expectations that had already quashed the narrator herself.
All of these themes are explored through the metaphor of ironing. Ironing, one of the most important and repetitive tasks in the narrator's life, provides a way of understanding the story. On the one hand, the iron can be seen as a manifestation of how Emily's mother examines the past. Much as an iron moves repeatedly over the fabric, the narrator constantly revisits the past, hoping to finally smooth out its rough edges and gain understanding. The narrative style reflects this approach, as the narrator shifts between time periods with little explicit transition between them.
However, more importantly, ironing serves as a metaphor for the position of the individual under the cultural forces of society. While Emily's mother cannot resist the iron and the cultural forces it represents, she hopes Emily will be able to see herself beyond that, to become an individual who refuses to yield to and be defined by it. The narrator cannot ultimately smooth out her past, which is why she quits trying at the story's end. We will then contact you to clarify the details so that nothing prevents our writer from completing your order within a short timeframe.
I Stand Here Ironing - Words | Essay Example
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