What is the rising action and climax of "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Rising action is defined as the events that develop from the conflict of a story--beginning with the action that incites the conflict--and lead to the climax. The climax is defined as that point in the story at which the resolution is fixed and determined. The climax may be the most emotional moment in the narrative but emotionality is not a requirement; the climax may be a cognitive or psychological event as easily as an emotional or action-packed event.

In the case of "I Stand Here Ironing," the rising actions are the narrated events that take in the mother's abandonment by Emily's father and include the mother's giving Emily to the father's parents to look after; bringing her back home; the tragic incident of catching measles; the discontent with her siblings and her school experience; signing up for and competing in the school talent show.

These events of rising action lead to the climax. There are opposing point of view as to what the climax is or even if there is a climax to "I Stand Here Ironing." One opinion suggests that the rising action leads to the climax at which Emily wins the talent show and phones her mother in ecstatic joy. Incidentally, part of this view of the climax illustrates that even though Emily's mother doesn't know how to show her deep love for Emily and even though Emily was separated from her mother's care, they are bonded to each other in a great, if unspoken, way, which prefigures the upcoming resolution.

Another opinion suggests that rising action, including winning the talent show, leads to a climax that comes when Emily asks her mother, "Aren't you ever going to finish the ironing, mother?" This is a psychological climax at which point the mother has the slow dawning of realization that results from her contemplation and leads to the resolution, which is embodied in "Why were you so concerned? She will find her way." The final opinion suggests there is no climax to "I Stand Here Ironing."

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