I Stand Here Ironing: Character Analysis of Emily Essay

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The short story “I Stand Here Ironing” (1961) by Tillie Olsen is a touching narration of a mother trying to understand and at the same time justifying her daughter’s conduct. Frye interprets the story as a “meditation of a mother reconstructing her daughter’s past in an attempt to express present behavior” (Frye 287). An unnamed person has brought attention and concern to her mother expressing, “‘She’s a youngster who needs help and whom I’m deeply interested in helping’” (Olsen 290). Emily is a nineteen-year-old complex girl who is atypical, both physically and in personality. Emily’s upbringing is plagued with difficulties. She is the first-born of a young mother and the eldest of five brothers and sisters. As a baby, she is…show more content…
She is self-conscious about her appearance. She constantly compares herself with other girls and even expresses envy. She suffers while says, “‘If I had that cooper hair,’ ‘If I had that skin….’” (Olsen 294). In spite of her suffering, it is almost shocking how Emily behaves extraordinary well even in stressful situations. When she is left at nursery school, she acts unexpectedly contrary to most kids her age. “‘She did not clutch and implore “don’t go Mommy” like the other children’” (Olsen 291). She prefers to stay at home but even while trying to convince her mother to let her stay, she does it subtly, “‘Never a direct protest, never rebellion’” (Olsen 292). Does Emily behave well by choice? Her mother is worried and wonders, “What in me demanded that goodness in her? And what was the cost, the cost to her of such goodness?” (Olsen 292). It is difficult to understand, even surprising, how she neither shows nor expresses being upset even though she experiences plenty of justifiable situations. She acts calm when she is left alone at night, when under normal circumstances it would be upsetting to any other kid. She is collected while confronting unfair situations and Olsen makes it extraordinary easy to visualize when Emily’s mother recalls, “Susan telling jokes and riddles to company for applause while Emily sat silent (to say to me later: that was my riddle, Mother, I told it to Susan)” (Olsen 294). She has the right to get angry and to express it
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