I Stand Here Against the Government: The Allegorical Message of “I Stand Here Ironing by Olsen

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“I Stand Here Ironing” is almost a mirror story of author Tillie Olsen. Like the narrator she wrote, Olsen also was abandoned by her husband after their first child and later remarried and had more children. Being a mother caused her to put aside her career (writing), which happens to be the opposite of the narrator, who put aside being a mother to be a woman who took care of “womanly” duties around the home. Olsen also uses this story to attack the government by writing how the narrator struggled to fend for herself and her child when they received no governmental help. She also used the narrator’s daughter, Emily, to show what happens when the government does not help their people. This is why I believe that in “I Stand Here Ironing,” Olsen levels a sustained attack on a heartless, bureaucratic government.
Olsen starts this attack by having the government not help the narrator when her first husband left her with an infant child. One of the first things we learn in “I Stand Here Ironing” is that the narrator’s husband left her and their infant child, Emily, because he “could no longer endure sharing want with [them]” (Olsen, paragraph 8.) Olsen adds blame on the government for why the narrator’s husband left by telling us that this happened before the Work Progress Administration, as to say it is the government’s fault for acting too late. When the narrator finally finds a job, she could not get one with hours well enough to be with her child. The narrator loved the way her baby reacted to the lights, colors, and music and was understandably crushed that she had to leave her baby with a neighbor so she could work (Olsen, Paragraph 8). Olsen uses this to blame the government for not coming up with a plan to help single mothers...

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...he ironing board,” that is, she hopes Emily learns her self-worth and does not allow herself to care more about getting wrinkles out of clothes than caring for her children.
Olsen used Emily as an example of how the government cares more about business than people, thus why I believe she sustained an attack on a heartless, bureaucratic government in “I Stand Here Ironing.” She writes about how the government left the narrator to fend for herself and her child when her husband left her to escape the poverty they were in. She also uses Emily to show what happens to a child and a mother when the government does not help them stay together. Olsen then shows that punctuality is important to help people by showing that the government’s want to help Emily, now a teenager, is futile. These statements are all results of a bureaucratic government with no care for its people.

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