Tillie Olsen Short Fiction Analysis
Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me a Riddle contains four stories arranged chronologically in the order in which they were written: “I Stand Here Ironing,” “Hey Sailor, What Ship?,” “O Yes,” and “Tell Me a Riddle.” All but the first story contain, as major or minor characters, members of the same family, whose parents emigrated from Russia. The characters in the first story could also belong to the same family, although there is no evidence to prove it and the names of the children are different; nevertheless in “I Stand Here Ironing” characters, situation, and tone are similar to those found in the other three stories. A difference between “I Stand Here Ironing” and the remaining stories in the volume is that the former story is told in the first person, being a kind of interior monologue (actually an imagined dialogue), whereas “Hey Sailor, What Ship?,” “O Yes,” and “Tell Me a Riddle” are told in varieties of the third person.
“I Stand Here Ironing”
Exterior action in “I Stand Here Ironing” is practically nonexistent, consisting of a woman moving an iron across an ironing board. Interior action is much more complicated, being a montage of times, places, and movements involving a mother in interaction (or lack of interaction) with her firstborn, a daughter, Emily. Questions arise as to whether the montage can define or even begin to define the daughter; whether the mother or anyone else can...
(The entire section is 1843 words.)
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