Parental Detachment in I Stand Here Ironing

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Every parent knows how difficult it is to make decisions in the best interest of their children. There is always some doubt in the back of the mind, what if this happens or that happens. Tillie Olsen shows in her story “I Stand Here Ironing” the conflict and the results of one mother’s decisions. She illustrates the back, forth motion of the iron as the back and forth doubts in the mother’s mind. The detachment between mother and daughter in “I Stand Here Ironing” is understandable. The mother struggles daily with the decisions she made while her oldest child Emily was a young baby and toddler. Obstacles in Emily’s life have made it hard for her mother to forget these decisions, and life with Emily only reinforces these decisions.

Emily’s mother struggles when asked to help an outsider understand who Emily is. Her thoughts are perplexing; she tries constantly to accept the relationship between herself and Emily, the distance between them emotionally. There is a constant internal fight as to the choices she had made when Emily was just an infant. Her baby was a miracle, one that she treasured deeply. However, when she was left to raise her alone, she had to send her off to live with relatives and strangers in order to work. These early years are the most crucial times in a child’s life, the years that attachment and bonding happen. Emily’s not being able to live with her mother inevitably limited these connections from forming. Emily’s mother recalls a time having to leave her with a sitter while she went to work and when she returned from work; the response was crushing, “when she saw me, she would break into a clogged weeping,” (Olsen). Clogged acts as the visual word here. Emily was unable to cry the tears she should have cri...

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...ving to raise a child on her own was not the life she had imagined. She had no experience to go by; only what the books told her was right and wrong. She did the best that she was able given her circumstances. The mother tells the person that has asked help to understand Emily to “let her be.” (Olsen) She tells herself that Emily has become all that she is going to become. Because of the world around and the decisions made by her mother, she will not have the opportunity to become more. However, to her mother she is perfect the way she is. She feels she has failed her in a way “my wisdom came too late, she has much to her and probably little will come of it.” (Olsen) Her mother doesn’t want her to settle, “help her to know that she is more than this dress on the ironing board.” (Olsen) She wants better for Emily; she does not have to conform to the world around her.

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