Parental Detachment In I Stand Here Ironing

986 words - 4 pages

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 cried because she had started to become less attached to her mother. Another memory arises when she places her in a nursery, again so that she could find work. Emily is isolated from her mother’s touch; she does not get the reassurance she needs that her mother would return for her. Nurseries in this time were very stale and cold; her mother describes it as “…lacerations of group life.” (Olsen) The mental pain is like physical pain that she could feel throughout her little body. The separation of feelings between mother and daughter are so severe that Emily feels as though her heart is torn in two.
As Olsen has done throughout her story, the visual imagery clarifies the story. Olsen writes about the way boys and girls appear when they live at a convalescent home, “the girls still wear those gigantic red bows and the ravaged looks…” (Olsen) The children have a look of longing; they are stripped of their emotions. They desire for nothing more than to be...

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