The mother's circumstances affect her ability to care for Emily markedly. This arise through her context and the specific chain of events she suffers. As she notes, " ''Her father left me before she was a year old." The author Tillie Olson lived through the Great Depression, and this colors the story throughout. The mother is not a contemporary woman living in a society with an extensive social support network and the assumption of equal rights for women. She's raising her daughter alone, when it was assumed that she'd have help, and doing so at a time of great poverty. Her daughter had the talent and desire to perform, but the mother had to keep grinding away at hard work (like ironing) to support them, creating a distance.