In Tillie Olsen's short story "I Stand Here Ironing" we find two generations of women whose lives have been consistently interrupted by a myriad of social and financial obstacles. These obstacles have prevented them from developing a normal mother/daughter relationship. They have also created a massive gap in which there are two identities trying to manifest themselves. Although the women have experienced life harshly, one of them still has a little more hope to succeed than the other.
The two women are Emily and her mother. The mother is the character who is interviewed about Emily's talent as a comedian. She is ironing at the time of the interview. She confesses through the interview how she and Emily have never been able to bond officially: When Emily was born, her mother was too young, too poor, and then got abandoned by Emily's father. The need to work, disease, and the coming of a new husband with new children made Emily separate herself from her mother for long periods of time. Emily clearly felt deeply the separation from her mother, however, in her intense suffering, she became tough enough to survive it, and live with it.
The mother, however, does not seem to want to continue her pattern of life. She stands there ironing...still. And she has even more children. She continues to be poor. She resents her past, but she does not move away from it: Her present is the same as her past.
Emily, however, finds her voice in acting, gets a prize, and has impressed people enough to put aside her fears and move forward.
Hence, there is the difference between mother and daughter: One moved one step ahead of the vicious cycle of welfare, disease, poverty, and unnecessary pregnancies and, instead, went after her own identity.