I Stand Here Ironing

by Tillie Olsen

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How does conflict relate to "I Stand Here Ironing"?

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The conflict that is evidenced in this powerful monologue takes the form of both internal and external, as the mother battles with her own sense of internal guilt concerning the decisions that she has made about her daughter and also the external conflict she has fought with poverty and want. Note how both of these forms of conflicted are highlighted when she talks about her decision to put her daughter, aged two, into a nursery school:

She was two. Old enough for nursery school they said, and I did not know then what i know now--the fatigue of the long day, and the lacerations of group life in nurseries that are only parking places for children.

Except that it would have made no difference if I had known. It was the only place there was. It was the only way we could be together, the only way I could hold a job.

The mother obviously feels guilt for putting her daughter into the nursery school, to receive what she recognises now to be substandard care as they treat children as merely "cars" to be looked after rather than care for them and love them as a parent does. However, the second section of the quote recognises that because of her poverty and need, the single mother had no other choice than to put her daughter into a nursery. It was either that or to send her back to her ex-husbands family and to be separated again. Therefore the conflict in this story focuses both on external and internal conflict, and expose the mother as being a figure of sympathy as she struggles to cope with the guilt she faces about past decisions but also balances that with having to have done the best that she could in an extremely difficult position. 

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