Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The mother-child relationship is the focus of “I Stand Here Ironing.” The close bond created in the days of infancy is threatened as soon as the mother must consign the child to a sitter. Both the mother and the child regret and resist the absences that weaken the bond and make it difficult for the mother to express her love for the little girl, but poverty and the demands of other family members prevail, so that by the time the story takes place, the mother believes that she can be of no help to the girl’s further development.

The daughter’s view of the relationship is expressed only as it is perceived by the mother. However, the mother’s memories of the infant crying, the small child finding reasons not to be separated from the mother, but never rebelling or begging, the stiffness and silence of the bigger child when her mother tried to hold or comfort her, the help in mothering and in cheering up her mother when the stepfather was away all suggest that the complexity of the relationship has been developing for a long time. Hurt and deprivation and anger have not severed the bond of love, but they have created barriers so that the mother and daughter are very separate people now.

The mother’s confidence that the daughter’s common sense will prevail if only she can be persuaded that life is not futile is an acknowledgment of the daughter’s maturity. The mother was persuaded against her own common sense to feed the child only at set intervals, to send the child to nursery school, and finally to place her in the convalescent home. In acquiescing to the advice of others instead of following her own instincts, she realizes now, she hurt the child emotionally; she will not make the same mistake again.


(Short Stories for Students)

In Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing," an unnamed narrator reflects on her somewhat distant relationship with her eldest daughter. It is a story...

(The entire section is 725 words.)