How much of what happened to Emily could have been changed by the mother?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Tillie Olsen's story "I Stand Here Ironing", the character of Emily is a young nineteen year old woman who has a curious and interesting talent for comedy, performs funny acts but, ironically, has lost all interest for goals for life at her young age.

It seems as if Emily is a product of a very inconsistent upbringing. Her father abandons the family home, leaving Emily's mother having to make ends meet as a single mother. This means that she would go from job to job often having to leave little Emily with strangers and other family members. Growing up, Emily does not get any form of attention. She is, actually, one of her mother's many obstacles as a result of the poor economy of the Depression.

As an adult, Emily deviates from her silent and invisible role she fulfills as a daughter and creates a personality that automatically attracts attention to herself: The persona of the funny girl. However, like many clowns, the happiness is only skin-deep and surely Emily suffers from tremendously inconsistent feelings of safety, security, and self-love.

Additionally, Emily's mother remarries and has a second daughter, Susan. Susan is the complete opposite of Emily: She is vivacious, talkative, open-minded and charismatic. This is another big blow to Emily's process of development: She not only feels invisible, but she also becomes invisible with the presence of her younger sister.

The mother's actions definitely affect Emily. However, Emily's life is a product of bad timing. Surely her mother could have stayed home to take care of her, but the Depression eats the American Dream, forcing all individuals to become money-earning machines. Her mother could have taken the time to pay more attention to Emily, but the time and place expects women to become wives first, and mothers second. Lastly, the mother could have taken the time to admire and support Emily, however, Emily's life changes very fast and her personality has already become what it is.

Therefore, as much as things could have been different, the fact that the mother is a woman, as well as Emily, make a huge difference in the opportunities that are possible for them in society.

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