I Stand Here Ironing

by Tillie Olsen

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Is Emily's mother a reliable narrator in "I Stand Here Ironing"?

Quick answer:

The narrator seems to be reliable, but there is no twist that makes the reader re-evaluate this reliability.

Expert Answers

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Based on the information that Tillie Olsen provides, a case can be made to consider the narrator of “I Stand Here Ironing” reliable or unreliable. Because the mother is a first-person narrator, there is a greater possibility that she is unreliable. The reader is provided with no further information beyond the narrator’s perspective, so we cannot evaluate the veracity of any of her claims. Some of the events and attitudes to which she refers might lead us to question her mental stability.

However, in most works of fiction where the narrator is not reliable, there is some sort of twist that makes the reader re-evaluate the likelihood that the narrator is providing a true, or at least relatively unbiased, version of reality. That sort of situation is not present in this story. The mother comes across as trustworthy; she seems to be in touch with reality and exhibits genuine concern for her daughter’s welfare, along with a healthy attitude toward personal growth and the achievement of goals. Overall, the narrator seems to be reliable.

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