I Stand Here Ironing

by Tillie Olsen

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Is Emily's mother a "good" mother in Tillie Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing"?

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In "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen, the mother of Emily, who loves her daughter, delights in remembering what a beautiful baby she was and how Emily loved motion, light, color, music, and textures. Yet, she feels guilty for having to had put the girl in a "nursery." While she had Emily in a nursery, the mother was ill at ease. As she continues her monologue, the mother tells of the place where Emily spent time recuperating from red measles. She also says, "It took us eight months to get her released home," a statement which implies that the mother is caring.

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In "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen , the mother of Emily, who loves her daughter, delights in remembering what a beautiful baby she was and how Emily loved motion, light, color, music, and textures.  Yet, she feels guilty for having to had put the girl in...

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a "nursery."

While she had Emily in a nursery, the mother was ill at ease.  As she continues her monologue, the mother tells of the place where Emily spent time recuperating from red measles.  She also says, "It took us eight months to get her released home," a statement which implies that the mother is caring.  After Emily is home, sometimes the mother keeps her out of school so that Emily and the other children and she would be all together.

The mother regrets that "there was so little time"; she would like to have had more occasions with Emily. But, always she has had confidence in Emily, glad that she was slow to mature physically so that she missed the

terrible world of youthful competition, of preening and parading, of constant measuring yourself against every other, or envy.

Finally, in her motherly love, Emily's mother wonders why the psychologist has had her come in:

She is so lovely.  Why did you want me to come in at all?  Why were you concerned? She will find her way.

She has the confidence in her child that only a loving mother can.  And, while she knows that she has been forced by circumstance to neglect her child by having to place her oldest girl elsewhere while she worked, and has neglected her when her other children were small, Emily's mother has always felt that

all that compounds a human being is so heavy and meaningful in me.

Emily's mother wants her daughter Emily to understand this meaning, as well, telling the psychologist to let her know that she "is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron." Emily has worth; she is more than the sum of her experiences.  The mother wishes to instill in her daughter a sense of self-worth; for this she is a caring and good mother.

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What are the characteristic of Emily's mother in Tillie Olsen's short story "I Stand Here Ironing"?

Emily's mother, the narrator, is a woman who has many regrets.  She is loving and well-meaning, but guilt-ridden at the ways she feels she failed her oldest daughter Emily in her raising, and angry at the circumstances that caused her to do so.  She was a young mother abandoned by her husband and struggling to balance working and childcare, and in looking back she second-guesses her attempts to follow the best advice she had at the time - "with all the fierce rigidity of first motherhood (doing) like the books then said" about letting her baby cry in order to nurse her on a schedule, and later sending her daughter to a convalescent home she hated because "they persuaded me at the clinic".  She acknowledges that Emily "was a child of anxious...love", and laments that in the way she raised Emily "my wisdom came too late".

Still, despite her regrets, Emily's mother is hopeful.  She believes that, in the final analysis, nurture isn't everything, and that her daughter can rise above the circumstances of her childhood and "find her way...there is still enough left to live by".  Emily's mother's fervent prayer for her daughter is that she might know "that she is more than (a) dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron", and have the strength and courage to become as much as she can be.

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