I Stand Here Ironing

by Tillie Olsen

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1. Olsen has a long history of political activism, and she was once jailed for trying to organize blue-collar workers to join a union. Explain how "I Stand Here Ironing" echoes Olsen's leftist politics, even though it contains no overt political statements.

2. What do you think Olsen believes is a more important influence in a person's lifeā€”the role of nature, or the role of nurture? Give some examples of Emily's character traits that her mother thinks are due to nature and some she believes are due to nurture.

3. Many psychologists believe that birth order influences personality. Research this idea and find out what some studies have found to be common traits among first-born children. How is Emily's behavior representative of oldest children, and how is it different?

4. Write a character sketch of the narrator of the story. What does the reader learn about her through her revelations about her relationship with her eldest daughter?

5. Discuss the narrator's decision in the end to "let her be" when Emily declares that she wants to sleep in rather than attend her school examinations.

6. How do you suppose Emily would characterize her relationship with her mother? Rewrite a key incident or passage in the story from Emily's point of view.

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