An Analysis of the Mother in Tillie Olsen's Story, "I Stand Here Ironing"

An Analysis of the Mother in Tillie Olsen's Story, "I Stand Here Ironing"

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The mother in Tillie Olsen’s story, “I Stand Here Ironing” gives insight into the upbringing of her first child. We see she is guilty of neglect towards Emily and is distressed due to poor decisions that she had made rearing her daughter. The mother reflects on the past and thinks that her actions and “lack of” might have affected Emily. She is so engulfed in “what ifs” and “how could I’s” that she is practically beating herself mentally. Poor Emily received little attention when attention was needed, allowing us to condemn the mother for her actions. At the same time we understand her because in the past 19 years there were certain situations that they endured where she had no control, leaving her helpless.
What we see in the mother from the beginning is guilt, guilt about neglecting Emily. After a concerned phone call about her daughter, anger caused by guilt buried within herself emerges “who needs help…you think because i am her mother I have a key...there is all that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me.” The mother is defensive and outraged about this phone call at first but shortly after we see the guilt. We find ourselves asking why does she act this way and how is guilt associated with the way she acted? In Leslie S. Greenberg Ph.D, David Engel Ph.D, Roger J. Daldrup Ph.D, and Larry E. Beutler Ph.D book, “Focused Expressive Psychotherapy: Freeing the Overcontrolled Patient”, they explain what focused expressive psychotherapy (FEP) is, how to identify symptoms in need of FEP treatment and how to treat using FEP. On page 9 of their book, they explain different types of anger expressed by people and what types classify for treatment. “Defensive anger is a specific form of deflection in which people appear to e...

... middle of paper ... of cards that prevented her from becoming her full potential. When the mother speaks of Emily this way she is simply saying that Emily will find her way through life somehow, someway. She might not become anyone important, she might not do incredible things, and she might not even live the life she wanted. In the end, Emily will still live a life that is worth living with all the mistakes, regrets, and decisions that will all be her own.

Works Cited

Tillie Olsen’s story, “I Stand Here Ironing” ,Leslie S. Greenberg Ph.D, David Engel Ph.D, Roger J. Daldrup Ph.D, and Larry E. Beutler Ph.D book, “Focused Expressive Psychotherapy: Freeing the Overcontrolled Patient”,American humane association website,, Linda Wasmer Andrews book “The Encyclopedia of Depression Volume 1, page 271

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