Critical Analysis Essay of Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”

Critical Analysis Essay of Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”

One of the most renowned works of Tille Olsen is I Stand Here Ironing. Published in 1961, this story is told through the first person point of view of the mother, It follows her story of how she became mother to her first born, Emily. Throughout the story, she recalls details and thinks about what should or would have done differently as a parent if she had have more experience and better options. In this narrative, the author made use of the themes of motherhood as well as the nature of regret – both of which were exemplified by the narrator.

One of the most prominent and perhaps, most important themes of the story is that of motherhood. More particularly, Olsen presented the selfless and unconditional love of mothers and women. This theme is underlined by the narrator herself who is presented as a hardworking woman unfortunately oppressed by events that took place in her life. In the first part of the story, she is ironing and explains how her mind, like her iron goes back and forth. She recalls how her daughter’s father left her because of poverty. And being a single mother, she needs to work double time so that she can provide her daughter’s needs. The narrator similarly recalls how she worries whenever Emily is sick and how she was labelled as “slow learner” (Olsen 25). Despite of their poverty, it is clear how the narrator did her best to be both a mother and provider to her daughter. In the same way, the narrator recalls her frustrations as a mother and wishes that her child would have better options (Koppelman 177).

What is most interesting about this story is that instead of representing the protagonist as a nurturing and loving mother, she is depicted as a struggling mother. The poverty and lack of better options eventually led her to become somewhat regretful of motherhood. But despite of her failures to fulfil a nurturing role, it is also clear that the narrator did everything in her power to become the best mother she knows how. What other people failed to see is that she carried the burden of parenthood all by herself. While this task requires two parents, she manages to juggle being both a mother and breadwinner. In the same way, she also hopes only for the best for her child.

Another clear theme in this story is the nature of regret. She acknowledges her inability to give her daughter a better life; and it is because of this that she dwells in perpetual regret and emotional defeat. Interestingly, the character of Emily is also responsible for this sense of guilt that her mother feels. In fact, her character stirs up emotions of guilt and regret in her mother in a way that her sibling cannot. This is largely because Emily was born as the first child. More than this, she was the one who was brought in a condition where poverty was a reality of life. this explains why the narrator feels so much guilt and sadness whenever she see her first born. Despite of this, it is also interesting how the narrator offers herself some form of forgiveness as she knows in her heart that she does everything she can to offer her child the best life she could afford (Werlock 24).

Based on the points provided, it can be concluded that the author employed two important themes in this story. This includes the concept of motherhood along with its burdens and the nature of regret – both of which are exemplified by the narrator.





Works Cited

Koppelman, S. Between Mothers and Daughters. NY: Feminist Press, 1987

Olsen, Tillie. I Stand Here Ironing. NY: Rutgers Press, 1995

Werlock, A. Companion to Literature. NY: Infobase, 2009