Genre: Short Story. The narrator stands working at her ironing board, responding mentally to a request someone a teacher? She's a youngster who needs help. Due to the wages of loss, poverty and dislocation, a wall has grown up between mother and daughter--she has always wanted to love the sickly, awkward, stiff, and isolated girl, but has not been able to penetrate the wall.
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Eight months later, the father leaves, and the narrator has to seek work while leaving Emily in the care of others. For a brief time, Emily must live with her father's family until the narrator can make enough money to support the two of them. Their lives seem to improve materially when the narrator remarries. But Emily catches the measles around the time that the narrator has another daughter, Susan.
Emily spends a few months at a charity-run convalescent home for children. After changing her son Ronnie's diaper, the narrator goes back to her ironing and continues her musings. During World War II, Emily helps her mother care for a growing household and has trouble keeping up with her studies.
Emily's life changes when she puts on a comedy act for a high school talent show. Suddenly she is popular and appears at other schools and venues with her act. The narrator's reflections are interrupted when Emily returns home. She ends her musings with the hope that the unnamed person who asked about Emily will be able to help Emily build a better life. Study Guide. By Tillie Olsen. I Stand Here Ironing.
I Stand Here Ironing
The narrator is at home ironing the entire time that she relates these reflections to the reader. She tells the reader that Emily was a beautiful baby whom she, the narrator, loved deeply from her birth. When Emily returns, she is thin, nervous, and prone to illness, changes that cause the narrator guilt and sadness. The narrator sends Emily to nursery school during the day, even though she knows Emily hates it. The narrator recalls that clocks in particular frightened Emily.
I Stand Here Ironing Summary
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Her life rolls on and she irons; straightening the creases and hiding the wear and tear that result from overuse and repeated cleaning. She straightens the creases with the heat of the iron. Probably, over the years, the creases transfer from the clothes to her body, the body that stands bent over the ironing-board in labor. Perhaps ironing for pay or perhaps ironing for members of her household, it is only hinted she irons for her livelihood.