Guilt And Dilemmas In Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing
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In her short story “I Stand Here Ironing”, Tillie Olsen tells the story of a mother who wrestles with guilt and justification in the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s troubles. The teacher sends a request to meet to discuss Emily’s problems in school (Olsen, 607). Word choices the educator uses in her request shows her desperation to help Emily (Olsen, 607) however, the appeal strikes deeply rooted wounds and worries for the mother (Olsen, 608-612).
As the nurture, a mother is concerned with all her decisions, as well as uncontrollable elements in her child’s life; and what impact it will have on the child, both long and short term. This is a burden every mother carries, but when hardships contribute to those decisions, the worry intensifies. Often the lesser of two evils (and prayer for the best outcome) is the only option. This seems to have been the case for Emily’s mother, beginning with her divorce and life as a single mother (Olsen, 608).
In trying to strike a balance between being the provider and the nurturer, single mothers may have to make decisions that can affect the bond they have with their child. Emily’s mother had to do this when she sent the child to her former in-laws because she could not make enough money to provide for her (Olsen, 608). This is not only a stumbling block for the child’s development, it is a heartache that can never be extinguished for the mother, even after the child has returned (Olsen, 608). The mother will undoubtedly wonder