I Stand Here Ironing Topics for Discussion
by Tillie Olsen

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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1. Which aspects of this story would be different if it were set today and which would be unchanged?

2. How accurate or reliable do you suppose the mother's understanding of her relationship with her daughter actually is? What makes you think so?

3. Most married women in the 1950s were not employed outside the home, but the responsibilities of full-time housework and rearing younger children often limited their involvement with their older children, as described in "I Stand Here Ironing." How does this compare and contrast with modern society, in which most married women work outside the home?

4. Identify one key incident in the narrator's relationship with her daughter and describe why you think it is the most important element of the story in defining their relationship.

5. What does the narrator mean when she expresses hope that Emily will realize that "she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron"? What are Emily's prospects for education, employment, marriage, or motherhood?

6. The narrator describes her younger daughter, Susan, as a better student, better-looking, and more popular than Emily; the mother further suggests that because Susan was raised in a more nurturing environment, she would inevitably outshine her older half-sister. How reliable is this assessment, and what does it reveal about the mother?