The monologue in "I Stand Here Ironing" seems to have been prompted by a telephone call from Emily's college counselor, part of which is quoted in the second paragraph.
"I wish you would manage the time to talk with me about your daughter. I'm sure you can help me understand her? She's a youngster who needs help and whom I'm deeply interested in helping."
The remainder of the monologue is taken up with memories of the harsh life of the woman who is doing the ironing and has been doing ironing for most of her adult life. She was forced to neglect Emily because her husband deserted her when Emily was only one year old and the mother had to work hard at unskilled jobs in order to support her children. She doesn't believe the counselor can do much to help at this point. She concludes:
She has much in her and probably nothing will come of it. She is a child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear.
The reader only gets a glimpse of Emily when she comes home from college. The talented girl isn't concerned about the fact that she is doing poorly in school. When her mother asks about her midterms, she says:
"Oh, those...in a couple of years when we'll all be atom-dead they won't matter a bit."
Obviously the girl was born during the Great Depression, grew up during World War II, and is now living through the Cold War, when many people thought it was only a matter of time before civilization would be destroyed by a great nuclear war.