I Stand Here Ironing

A Mother?s Decision In the short story "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen, the reader is introduced to a mother faced with a strong internal conflict involving her eldest daughter Emily. Emily?s mother makes a very meaningful statement at the end of the story. Her statement was "help [Emily] to know that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron" (Olsen, 582). This statement shows the reader that the mother wants her daughter to have a better life than what she has had up to this point. Emily?s mother feels as though she has neglected her daughter in some sense. Throughout the story she describes two negative aspects of Emily?s childhood. First she talks about sending Emily to live with her relatives as a toddler. Next she describes sending Emily to a convalescent home as a young child. The mother ultimately feels guilty for the actions she took to ensure a better life for her daughter. The first decision that Emily?s mother had to make was to ship Emily off to stay with relatives. At this point Emily was a mere eight months old. Her mother made this decision so that she could work and save money for their future. Emily came back to her mother when she was two "all baby loveliness gone" (Olsen, 579). At this time in the story, the reader is able to see a change in the way the mother describes her child. The mother goes from seeing Emily as a beautiful baby to seeing her as a thin two-year-old. Emily grows into a young child who was self-conscience about her appearance, "thin and foreign-looking at a time when every girl was supposed to look [like the] replica of Shirley Temple" (Olsen, 580). Emily?s mother pondered several ways to comfort her daughter?s physical insecurities. The next big decision that Emily?s mother had to make was sending Emily to a convalescent home. The mother was persuaded to send Emily to this school by a social worker. Emily was still a thin girl; the school would often notify her mother that she would not eat. "It took us eight months to get [Emily] released home, and only the fact that she gained back so little of her seven lost pounds convinced the social worker" (Olsen, 580). This statement shows the reader that at this point in time the mother is trying extremely hard to make her life with her daughter normal. Emily came home to a new father and sister. She often felt threatened by her sister Susan "who for all the five years? difference in age was just a year behind Emily in developing physically" (Olsen, 581). The reader is able to see a change in the behavior of Emily and her mother at this point in the story. Emily?s character starts to change. She goes form a quiet, funny looking girl to a comedic teen. Emily?s mother is proud of her and, in the end only wants Emily to know that the world is more than the dress she wears, it is the strength that she possess. The mother constantly referred to the bad decisions that she had made for Emily throughout her childhood. These decisions caused the mother to constantly nag at her internal self. This is why the reader is shown an internal conflict throughout the story. She cannot seem to deal with the life that she has given her daughter. While Emily?s mother always felt as if she had made many bad choices in raising Emily, she also showed that she cared for Emily in a strong sense. Ultimately, Emily?s mother wanted her to know that what she possessed on the inside was far more important than what she wore on the outside.