Please provide a few valid ideas so I can write an essay on Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing".  I have to write a 5 to 6 page essay about the short monologue "I stand here Ironing" by Tellie...

Please provide a few valid ideas so I can write an essay on Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing".


I have to write a 5 to 6 page essay about the short monologue "I stand here Ironing" by Tellie Olsen and I must answer this question: "Who does she criticize and hold responsible for the difficulties her daughter has faced growing up?

I need idea to help me write this essay; any suggestions, please?

Asked on by maya813r

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It is easily discernible that the significance of the title of Tellie Olsen's story,  "I Stand Here Ironing," cannot be ignored.  For, like the act of pressing, in which the iron is moved back and forth, the mother/narrator vascillates in her placement of blame for her daughter's difficulties.  The first line of the story reads,

I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.

So, perhaps you would like to use a few lines from the exposition of the story in your introduction, such as: 

You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key?

Then, if your thesis contains 3 main points, they could be a statement about the mother's vascillation from blaming circumstances, to blaming her daughter, and to blaming herself. In all three of these perspectives, there appears to be some disillusion with life and a wistfulness in the mother seems to possess, a regret that she cannot go back and better protect this daughter who has been "sickened by much of life."

To develop her theme, Olsen uses much imagery and language to portray this troubled mother.  Simple images, such as the ironing, are used to convey the inner turmoil of the mother.  According to enotes,

the ironing [of wrinkles] becomes a symbol for the imperfections and frustrated desires of the narrator....The act of ironing epitomizes the endless tasks that have beset the narrator.

Another simple image is the daughter's suggestion of "Whistler's Mother" in conflict with the portrait of the mother over an ironing board.  The nursery has a "parking place for children" symbolizes the emptiness of Emily's experience in such places as the nursery and orphanage.

The mother's diction is also effective in developing the troubled mother.  As she reflects in her monologue (much like a solitary confession) upon Emily, the mother says, for example,

I think of our others in their three-, four-year-oldness--the explosion, the tempers, the denunciations, the demands--and I feel suddenly ill. I put the iron down.  What in me demanded that goodness in Her?  And what was the cost, the cost to her of such goodness?

In describing the orphanage, the mother states that the parents must stand below shrieking up to be heard, with the children shrieking back to them..

and between them the invisible wall, "Not To Be Contaminated by Parental Germs or Physical Affection.

Both the language in the mother's dialogue as well as the images and symbolism, express the guilt of the mother who is asked to explain what the problem is with her daughter.

For some assistance in writing your essay, see the how-to topics that enotes provides.  Look below for the sites.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I love this story, even though I haven't read it in years and thus can't give a particularly precise answer. I can say, though, that the mother (as best I remember) does not blame any one single person or institution but a number of them, including herself (she's highly critical of her own parenting skills) and the convalescent home.

You may want to consider writing a thesis with several parts and then go on to develop each part in more than one body paragraph. You should be able to write at least a page or two on the mother's criticisms of her own parenting skills. Read the story carefully, looking for relevant passages, and make substantial use of quotation and analysis in each section of the paper.

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