From what I understand, the young mother initially has a rough life, and can barely keep track of herself and her daughter, Emily. This caused the distance between the mother and Emily to become greater, even to the point that Emily does not like physical affection such as hugs from her mother. The mother loves her daughter greatly, but she does not have the means of providing for her child as she would like to. As there are other children and husbands added to the family, Emily seems to move farther from them all. As Emily grows older, the mother is regretful of the way Emily has grown up.

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Her reflections begin during the Great Depression, when Emily was born. Eight months later, the father leaves, and the narrator has to seek work while leaving Emily in the care of others.

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. During World War II, Emily helps her mother care for a growing household and has trouble keeping up with her studies. Suddenly she is popular and appears at other schools and venues with her act. 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.

I Stand Here Ironing The story opens with the narrator ironing. The narrator goes back nineteen years, to the time when her daughter was born.

The narrator herself was nineteen at the time, trying to get by during the Great Depression. Emily, as her daughter was called, was a happy baby. When Emily is eight months old, her father leaves them, and the narrator has to seek work.

Emily finally returns to live with the narrator at the age of two. The narrator leaves her at a nursery school, where the conditions are awful. Back to the flashback: The narrator remarries. When the narrator has a second daughter, Susan, Emily gets red measles. After the measles, Emily is still unwell, so they send her to a convalescent home in the country. As a child, Emily has trouble keeping up in her classes, and she has few friends.

She often stays home, sometimes because of her asthma. At around this age, Emily still gets along with her younger sister Susan, but the narrator notes that since then, their relationship has soured. After she puts Ronnie to bed, she continues to think about Emily. The narrator thinks of the war years. Emily helps her mother take care of the other four children and the housework. Emily is so exhausted by her work that she is unable to keep up in school.

To pass the time, Emily parodies the students at her high school. The narrator suggests that Emily put on an act for the school amateur show.

Emily does, and her act is a hit. She does her comedy routine at other high schools and colleges, then in other cities. Emily chats with her mom before she goes to bed. The narrator ends her reflections.


I Stand Here Ironing

Plot Overview Summary Plot Overview The unnamed narrator, a mother, is ironing while speaking on the phone with an unnamed individual who is most likely a social worker, teacher, or counselor. The mother likens the back-and-forth motion of the iron to her own mental process as she considers the cautionary statement made by this outside party. The narrator balks, wondering what she can possibly do to change the situation. The narrator feels she would become mired in the abstractions of the situation, all the things she should have done or those things that cannot be altered.


Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing: Summary & Analysis

Meet extraordinary women who dared to bring gender equality and other issues to the forefront. From overcoming oppression, to breaking rules, to reimagining the world or waging a rebellion, these women of history have a story to tell. During her lifetime Olsen gained considerable fame, particularly among scholars. The American Academy of Arts and Letters cited Olsen in for creating a freshly poetic form of fiction.


Tillie Olsen


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