Daughter and mother relationship is an endless topic for many writers. They are meant to share the bond of love and care for each other. In the real world, however, their relationship is not as successful as it ought to be. The stories “How to Talk to Your Mother” and “I Stand Here Ironing” are the examples of this conflict. Lorrie Moore is distinguished for the clever wordplay, irony and sardonic humor of her fiction. “How to Talk to Your mother” is a short story in her collection Self-Help. It is about a failed relationship of a daughter and her mother over time. Similarly, Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” portrays powerfully the economic and domestic burdens a poor woman faced, as well as the responsibility and powerlessness she feels over her child’s life. Both stories have the same theme, but each has different technique, and the conflicts from the characters are opposite.
Poor communication over time is the theme both stories share. In “How to Talk to Your Mother,” Ginny, the author, faded the relationship with her mother as time goes and things changed from 1939 to 1982. In 1952, Ginny started to break away by slamming the door and say “Don’t I know it” (Moore 105) when her mother asks about her crush in junior high. Then, she becomes a young adult with a new life and would not come home for holidays. However, it is not until her mother called her by her sister’s name that makes she feels uncomfortable. “Learn that you have a way of knowing each other which somehow slips out and beyond the ways you have of not knowing each other at all” (Moore 103). The simply “How to” title belies the complexities of broken communication between mother and daughter. Ginny attempts to communicate with her mother throughout decades, but it never works. In “I Stand Here Ironing,” the mother faced the same problem with poor communication.
Readers feel deeply sorry for the mother as she is economically alone, lonely, overworked and tired. The mother is always busy and preoccupied with other children. “I was working, there were four smaller ones now, there was not time for her” (Olsen 191). She has little or no time to talk to Emily, the daughter. The only time they met each other is at night, when Emily is struggle over books and the mother be ironing, or do other house chores. In both stories, the mothers and daughters have really poor communication. Each character has her own life and stared to ignore their love ones. Ginny lives her wild life with romance. On the other hand, the mother in “I Stand Here Ironing” is so busy with her low-class life. As a result, their relationship failed as time rolls.
Although both stories share similarity, each story was written with different styles, point-of-views, and languages. Lorrie Moore presents “How to Talk to Your Mother” in reverse chronological order, from latest to earliest. This technique supports her main idea by illustrating the broken communication pattern existing since the narrator’s childhood. With this style, readers find it amusing as they can read forward or backward. Moreover, this kind of writing is very rare in literature. Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” was written in a traditional flashback. It started with the mother blaming herself for Emily’s outturn. Then, she remembered all the life events that result in bad decisions she made for Emily. Both stories also have different point-of-view. “How to Talk to Your Mother” is told in second-person, using “you,” instead of “I.” The second-person narration distances the narrator from the pain inflicted by her mother, father, and lovers.
This is Moore’s clever choice. Readers can relate and sympathize with Ginny. On the other hand, “I Stand Here Ironing” is told in first-person. The mother is telling readers about her faults and her attempts to help Emily through difficult years. Readers can see the hardship the mother faced and understand her situation. Nevertheless, Moore writes the story like one would write in her diary, very informal. The full title is “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes),” and the language is not very aesthetic. On the contrast, Olsen writes her story in formal, literature language. In response to her story, Helen Pike Bauer writes: “Olsen’s story is a dialogue between circumstances and desire, constraint and love, absence and presence, silence and speech, power and helplessness.”
The conflicts of each character are opposite. The primary conflict in “How to Talk to Your Mother” is between Ginny and herself. She feels like she has her own life and her mother becomes annoying. In 1971, she wrote: “Go for long walks to get away from her. Walk through wooded area; there is a life you have forgotten” (Moore 103). Throughout the story, readers can see the broken relationship is resulted from the external events of her life. She has three abortions and involving many relationships with men that she don’t even like. “Sometimes you confuse her with the first man you ever love, who ever loved you …” (Moore 102). Ginny almost blamed herself for their relationship. Her mom is always there, in her house since 1967. A year before death, her mother tells her: “Is that any way to talk to your mother (Moore 101)?”
While Ginny experienced the external conflict of her life, the mother in “I Stand Here Ironing” faced an internal conflict involving Emily. She makes a very meaningful statement at the end of story: help Emily to know that “she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron” (Olsen 193). The mother constantly referred to the bad decisions she had made for Emily during her childhood. She sent Emily to live with her relatives as a toddler and came back with “all baby loveliness gone” (Olsen 188). Then, she sent her off again to a convalescent home. These decisions caused the mother to constantly nag at her internal self. Emily turned to a comedic teen is the result of the mother’s ignorant and poor relationship, which makes the mother blaming herself. She feels like the conflict is caused by her and Emily deserved a better life.
Thackeray says, “God cannot be everywhere and therefore he made mother.” Parents are the caretaker of their children. From their experiences, they know what is best and they would never mean ill for them. “How to Talk to Your Mother” and “I Stand Here Ironing” are short stories that remind readers to cherish their relationships with parents. Both stories have the same theme of communication, but each has different technique, and the conflicts from the characters are opposite. Their situations are very difficult: poverty, low-class, and early motherhood. Lorrie Moore writes “How to Talk to Your Mother” to mock the popular “How-to” style.
She marks off each stage of the plot by repeated works and ideas of heart, babies, containers, and unsuccessful talks between mother and daughter. Tillie Olsen writes “I Stand Here Ironing” with many symbolisms. For example, the iron is the torment, outside pressures. The dress is her problem, or Emily. The mother is ironing out the problem from inside her heart. Both stories carry the same message of mother and daughter relationship that most people faced the same path. In the society right now, there are many children experienced child abuses. As for many parents, they could not get their kids to listen to them. The heavenly relationship failed as lives go on.