How are the relationships similar and different in Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” and Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mother-daughter relationships in "I Stand Here Ironing" and "Two Kinds" are marked by chief similarities and differences. The most obvious similarity, of course, is that both stories are about mother-daughter relationships that are steeped in difficulties. In each, the daughter has ideas that are vastly different from the mother's. In each, the daughter has formed decisions and determinations, which are based on a child's limited experience and perceptions, that run contrary to the mother's hopes and desires (an adult may have found other avenues for addressing the mother's different point of view and their differing desires for better kinds of behavior).

The chief difference is that one mother is trying too hard while the other mother is unwillingly negligent. In Tan's story, her mother, who was attempting to develop the prodigy in Amy so she could find the American pot of gold, was always saying:

"Of course, you can be a prodigy, too," my mother told me when I was nine. "You can be best anything. ... "Ni kan," my mother said, calling me over with hurried hand gestures. "Look here."

In Olsen's story, she explains that she struggled in poverty to raise her daughter who was one of several other children in an era of poverty, "of depression, of war, of fear":

She was a child seldom smiled at. ...  I had to work her first six years when there was work, ... . We were poor and could not afford for her the soil of easy growth.  I was a young mother, I was a distracted mother.  There were other children pushing up, demanding.

So while one mother pressed her daughter too hard in pursuit of the American pot of gold, the other mother unwillingly turned her back on her daughter in order to try to mine some spilled sprinkles of dust from the American pot of gold.

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I Stand Here Ironing

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