Examining Conflict In I Stand Here Ironing

1495 words - 6 pages

In the short story "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen the conflict between a mother whose giving is limited by hardships is directly related to her daughter's wrinkled adjustment. Ironing, she reflects upon when she was raising her first-born daughter, Emily. The mother contemplates the consequences of her actions. The mother's life had been interrupted by childbirth, desertion, poverty, numerous jobs, childcare, remarriage, frequent relocations, and five children. Her struggling economic situation gave way to little or no opportunity to properly care for and nurture her first-born child. In spite of the attention and love Emily craved and never received, she still survived, and even made strengths, and talents, out of the deprivations she had endured.

From the beginning of Emily's life she is separated from those she needed most, and the mother's guilt tears at the seams of a dress barely wrinkled. Emily was only eight months old when her father left her and her mother. He found it easier to leave than to face the responsibilities of his family's needs. Their meager lifestyle and "wants" (Olsen 601) were more than he was ready to face. The mother regrettably left the child with the woman downstairs fro her so she could work to support them both. As her mother said, "She was eight months old I had to leave her daytimes" (601). Eventually it came to a point where Emily had to go to her father's family to live a couple times so her mother could try to stabilize her life. When the child returned home the mother had to place her in nursery school while she worked. The mother didn't want to put her in that school; she hated that nursery school. "It was the only place there was. It was the only way we could be together, the only way I could hold a job" (601). She knew she had to work to support them, and she wanted to be with her daughter. This was the only way she felt she could do both. Harder still was that Emily would cry and beg her mother not to that nursery school. As these separations press on Emily and her mother, the mother feels guilt and her child is torn by a separation made even worse as she's placed in several undesirable locations.

When Emily was ill, her mother believed that the best place to get care for her child was in a special home. This contradicted the real needs Emily had. Soon after the last child was born, Emily became very ill with red measles, and once again the mother had to send her away to a convalescent home in the country where she could be cared for until she was well enough to return home. The mother thought to herself, "She can have the kind of food and care you can't manage for her, and you'll be free to concentrate on the new baby" (602). For the first six weeks, Emily was not allowed any visitors. The child sat in this strange home for six weeks not knowing anyone at all until her mother could visit her every other Sunday. When her mother did visit, there was an invisible wall...

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