What does ironing symbolize in the short story, "I Stand Here Ironing"?  

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jgeertz | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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"I Stand Here Ironing" is a short story written by Tillie Olsen. The narrator of the story explores the role her imperfect mothering may have had on her teenaged daughter, Emily. The narrator is ironing during a phone conversation with an adult concerned about Emily's well-being. The back-and-forth motion of ironing is a metaphor for the narrator's mental state as she reviews the sum of her mothering - her circumstances, regrets, and hopes. She vacillates between these while she distantly considers her daughter's problems. The iron is a symbol of the responsibilities and work that have filled the narrator's hours. Hours that could have been spent with her daughter. Hours that could have allowed the mother and daughter to experience a deeper relationship. The mother wistfully imagines ironing out the wrinkles in her daughter's life as she dutifully carries on with the everyday demands of her own life.