The theme of Guilt/Regret is introduced in "I Stand Here Ironing" from the main charcter and her life events. It tells about her ups and downs and her regret for not being their for her daughter. Why is this important?
Perhaps, one reason for the intensity and importance of the guilt that the mother feels in the story can be seen in its closing. It becomes clear that the mother understands that she has missed a particular moment in time with her child. The realities of the mundane have eventually triumphed over the condition of motherhood:
I will never total it all now. I will never come in to say: She was a child seldom
smiled at. Her father left me before she was a year old. I worked her first six years when
there was work, or I sent her home and to his relatives. There were years she had care
she hated. She was dark and thin and foreign‐looking in a world where the prestige
went to blondness and curly hair and dimples, slow where glibness was prized. She
was a child of anxious, not proud, love. 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 the
other children pushing up, demanding. Her younger sister was all that she was not. She
did not like me to touch her. She kept too much in herself, her life was such she had to
keep too much in herself. My wisdom came too late. 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.
This ending to the story reflects how much guilt drives at the mother. It is the sum total of the mother's failures and reflections from which there can be no full absolution. The fact that the mother will "never total it all" in terms of what she did to her first born in the name of social and economic reality. The feelings of failure at having to see her father leave and then having to leave her in the care of others help to enhances the reality of guilt that cling to the mother even though her child no longer does. The mother reflects the guilt at not being able to effectively shelter her child from a harsh world where "glibness was prized," something that becomes evident that the child lacks. The fact that the mother sees her as a "young" and "distracted" mother helps to enhance these feelings of guilt and doubt about what harm she has inflicted on the child.
This is important for a couple of reasons. The first is that the experiences of guilt and regret showcases a reality of parenting that is not often grasped. The mother has no illusions about her parenting skills. Even though the child turned out as a social success, the mother understands how she has failed her and lives with that as a part of her being in the world. This is critical because it helps to prevent the mother from being anything more than she is: A caretaker who feels that she has come up short in the most critical of functions. Additionally, the feelings of guilt and regret are important because they help to provide a statement on what it means to be a parent. The reality that the mother forced upon her daughter and the reality that is present in the mother is one in which guilt and a sense of regret are all that remains. There is no "bad faith" that will cause escape from such a predicament. The mother does not want to pursue some false resolution that will alleviate this condition in her. Rather, in the most existential of ways, the mother accepts this condition as part of her being; it is what it is.