What was Emily seeking from her mother in "I Stand Here Ironing"? What did Emily's mother fail to provide her?

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bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily's mother failed, through no fault of her own, to provide Emily with the bonding, attention, and support babies and children need. They were separated for long periods of time, and Emily finally stopped allowing her mother to comfort her. The mother wasn't there to tell Emily she was pretty when she felt she didn't look like she was supposed to. While growing into a young woman, Emily had to forego her own childhood and help her mother with the younger children. This is why Emily so enjoys the applause of the audience when she acts. She's finally getting approval from someone, but she feels they are applauding her not as Emily, but as the someone else she's pretending to be. Emily is searching for her identity through her talents.

Emily wanted love, support, and attention from her mother. I like to think that Emily knows her mother has always loved her and will come to the realization that her mother did the best she could at the time. 


epollock | Student

The narrator’s daughter, Emily, comes across as an extraordinary person who is richly detailed. The child’s solitude (paragraphs 9-12), her fear of separation (paragraph 15), and her humor (paragraph 15) are well portrayed. Her success as an entertainer in pantomime (paragraphs 15,18) is anticipated in her silent but deeply-felt protests when as a child she is sent out for day care (paragraph 46). Her conversation with her mother as quoted in paragraphs 51–56 demonstrates her growing spirit and also illustrates the major theme of the story, namely that human character, unlike the symbolic rigidity of the clothes iron, is unique, resilient, and adaptable.

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I Stand Here Ironing

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