I Stand Here Ironing

by Tillie Olsen

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What was Emily seeking and what did her mother fail to provide in "I Stand Here Ironing"?

Quick answer:

Emily is searching for her identity. I think this is a very good response to the question, but it doesn't make sense that Emily had to help her mother with the younger children. I think it's important to point out that Emily was not an only child and she wasn't the oldest child, so she probably didn't have any responsibilities until she reached adulthood. "I heard a fly buzz when I died; It settled on my forehead And that's the last thing I knew." "The Fly" by Emily Dickinson A fly landed on her forehead? Why would a fly land on someone who is dead? This poem has been interpreted differently because of this line.

Expert Answers

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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. 

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