A Caring Mother Essay

1395 words - 6 pages

[1] Tillie Olsen’s “I stand Here Ironing” centers around two main characters: Emily and her mother. While Emily’s mother appears to be neglectful and at times selfish, upon further examination of her character, voice and appeal to the reader's pathos, the mother actually holds her daughter's well being above her own. The pair endure hardship throughout the text, but the mother always does the very best she can to raise her daughter, making every decision with Emily’s best interest as the central factor.
[2] As Olsen weaves her narrative, she hints and suggests details about the mother. Usually mother makes an off-hand comment about something other than herself but the particular way the thought is phrased and her choice of words says something about the mother and the way she is feeling. Olsen doesn’t spend a lot of textual space developing a rich characterization of the mother; the details given about Emily’s mother are sparse at best. The majority of information the reader has about the mother comes about as context or in reference to Emily’s life, a rhetorical indicator that the mother’s life is second to Emily’s The narrator - Emily’s mother - is never even properly named, perhaps intentionally so that the readers must always think of her as “The Mother”, which begs the reader to parallel her with the archetypal mother figure.
[3]When the narrative opens, the mother’s first sentence sets a tone that can be easily missed: “what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron” (671). The prose has only just started but the reader already knows that the mother is tormented by something. In a few lines, we find that she is tormented by the guidance counselor’s call. Emily’s guidance counselor is seeking help from the narrator to better understand Emily. Emily’s mother is tormented, not implicitly due to the call or because going to the school is a bother, but because the request stirs the mother's frustration about how her daughter was raised or rather, how the mother had to raise her daughter.
[4] A few paragraphs later, the mother reflects on Emily as a small infant and with a sorrowful tone she recollects that “[Emily] was a miracle to me, but when she was eight months old, I had to leave her daytimes [to work]" (671). Some may see this as neglect but it’s clear that Emily’s mother had no choice. She doesn’t stipulate that she wanted to leave her daytimes but that she “had to”. At this point in the story, Emily’s father walks out and is no longer part of her life, leaving the sole responsibility on Emily’s mother. This story is set in the 1930’s and 1940’s which were a difficult set of years by any account, harder still for a single mother, but the narrator perseveres. Eager to spend as much time with Emily as possible, the mother re-arranged her work schedule to be with Emily during the day, and when she came home, she’d run from the street car and up the stairs so that she might hold Emily that much sooner. She clearly...

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