Physical context has to do with time of day, whether the action takes place inside or outside and weather conditions. Discuss these elements regarding the story "I Stand Here Ironing" 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With autobiographical overtones, Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" relates a mother's monologue in which she expresses her ambivalence about her child-rearing abilities regarding her daughter about whom a school official asks.  As she passes the iron back and forth, the act of ironing becomes a metaphor for both the mother's recalling of Emily's childhood and her return to the present situation with Emily.

During the mother's monologue which is in stream-of-consciousness, there is no indication where the family has lived or lives at the time of the official's visit.  Nor is there any indication of anything else in the setting other than it is around the time of World War II since Emily tells her mother "we'll all be atom-dead."  That the mother suffered through the Great Depression when Emily was a child is evinced as she speaks of the "pre-relief, pre-WPA world of the depression." 

Since Tillie Olsen was born in Nebraska, perhaps the setting is Mid-America, but nothing is overtly stated.  It could also be set in California where Olsen later moved.  The school official's arrival is probably in the evening, since the mother is home from work, and is ironing clothes for the next day.  That the story takes place in mid-America is probable since the mother's story can easily be the story of the repressed frustration of many women forced to work outside the homes in order to provide for their children.

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I Stand Here Ironing

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