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Point of view in “I Stand Here Ironing” Essay

“I Stand Here Ironing” was written in the first person so that we could see Emily the way her mother (narrator) saw her. Through her reverie, we feel the mother’s pain that her daughter felt ugly as a child. We ache with the knowledge that she had to send Emily to the daycare with the “evil teacher” and to a convalescent home when she was desperately ill. We feel her regrets that she couldn’t be there with Emily as she was growing because she was working too hard to keep the family together. When Emily is in high school we are proud with the mother that Emily is performing on stage – and people love her. We, too, are relieved when Emily “runs up the stairs two at a time with her light graceful step.” She has gone from a shy, awkward girl to a beautiful, confident, graceful woman. We sense the mother’s resolve that Emily will be okay: “Why were you concerned? She will find her way.” And, with the mother, we are at peace. By using the first person narrator style, the author gives us only one point of view. She plainly states her theme for this hard-luck story: “We were poor and could not afford for her [Emily] the soil of easy growth. Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom – but in how many does it?” Had the story been told from another point of view, say as a third person, we may have thought that the mother was neglectful, or favored the younger children.

When we discover that the mother only smiled at the younger children, we may think that the mother didn’t like Emily. Concern has become disfavor. When we see that Emily does many of her mother’s chores, we may presume that mother is a harsh task- master. We would think, “She needs to do her own housework and let the child be a child.” If “I Stand Here Ironing” were written from another point of view, we would not understand the circumstances. The theme may become “Despite bad parents and bad circumstances a child can make something of himself.” I feel that the Tillie Olsen chose to use the point of view from the mother’s eyes because it was the mother that could see the girls faults, poverty and eventually strengths, but made the story more interesting by intertwining it with the reasons why she felt responsible for them. The “you” in the story could be and probably is the mother speaking to herself of what she feels she should be doing for the daughter. A great example of this is when she thinks, “You ought to do something about her with a gift like that- but without money or knowing how, what does one do?”.

Who else could she be talking to except herself? The story might have been interesting for it to have been writtin additionally through the eyes of the old man who live in the back, observing the tired, overworked and much demanded of mother who struggled so much to do her best for her children. Or maybe he would have thought she was neglectful and irresponsible. It also would have been interesting to present the story from the daughter’s point of view, looking back on her childhood and teenage years. As a mother myself, I can sympathize with the woman ironing, it seems like I am always questioning if what I am doing is right for my children and if I am helping them bloom into the wonderful adult they have growing inside of thier little bodies. In addition, it seems I usually think of these things while I have some quiet time while doing some tedious housework, oh the irony! I stand here ironing was a wonderfully written, yet sad story about a mother struggling to raise her children, and how she believed she failed with her oldest daughter Emily.

Though it is a short story, Tillie Olsen manages to takes us through 19 years of hard times and the steps that led to the condition of her and her daughter. If the story had been told from a different point of view than first person, our picture of the mother would have been drastically different. For example, if told from a neighbor’s standpoint, she may have been seen as an unfit mother, uncaring to her daughter’s troubles. This is shown with the neighbor’s comment, “You should smile more at Emily when you look at her.” Obviously he thinks she isn’t doing the greatest job at raising Emily, and maybe she should have smiled more, but what right does he have to comment on their situation? He has no idea what she goes through trying to keep her family together, and eating and with a roof over their head for that matter. This is why Tillie chose the first person point of view to tell the story. That way, we see how the mother did her best and there was no way around the hardships Emily faced. I wonder what the picture of the mother would have been like if the story were told from Emily’s point of view.

Would she have been angry with her mother? Or would she have been mad and sad, yet understanding, knowing that her mother had to work and be gone all the time for them to survive, that she was the first baby of a 19 year old mother, and her mother didn’t have all of the parenting skills she had with the other children? It would have been interesting to see the story in omniscient mode, so that we could see what Emily thought of her mother, not just what Emily told her mother about what she was feeling. I believe that if the mother would have not have had to work so much, and would have done a few things differently when Emily was growing up, Emily would not have had all of the self-esteem issues as she had in school, and in her personal life. Even things like telling the teacher to make the little boy stop hitting her instead of making her endure him everyday would have gone a long way. That fact makes me think of what my relationship with my mother did to my personality, if anything. Unlike some of my classmates, I was at home with my mother everyday until I was 5, when I went to preschool she was my teacher.

I would always cling to her and I remember not wanting to go to school because she was not there, so I wouldn’t have anyone to play with in my mind. Even in the years following preschool until age 8 or 9, when classmates would invite me to a birthday party, my mother would stay. She would stay to talk with the other mothers, but I always ended up at her hip the whole time and hardly played with the other children. Needless to say, I wasn’t at too many parties after that because I hardly had made any friends. They say that a person’s social skills are developed during those years I was at my mother’s side all the time, and sometimes I wonder if that could have been a reason for my severe shyness and trouble making friends. I believe this because when my mom did start working, my little sister was 9 months and was put in day care and didn’t spend nearly as much time with my mom as I did.

She, at 15, is more outgoing than I will ever be in my whole life. I am 19 now, and my shyness lessened a lot, but sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t been with my mother those years and she put my in a day care with other children so that certain parts of my personality would have been able to develop more, would my entire personality be different? Is the difference between my sister and my personalities purely genetic, or because of our environments (that same question can be posed about Emily and her sister Susan)? I guess that’s one of the things about my life I’ll never know, and as Emily’s mother put it, cannot be helped. Tillie Olsen focused on the hardships of bringing up her children, especially Emily, her oldest child, during the depression, without a support of a full time Dad. This story is on a more focused, interior monologue. Tillie wanted us, the reader, to feel her thoughts, think about her memories in a vivid sense. How she missed Emily while she was growing up. Tillie had a tough time trying to make it. Emily wanted attention from her Mom, Tillie so perhaps that is why food sickened her. “They persuaded me at the clinic to send her away to a convalescent home” as stated by Tillie and the thought behind that would be to have more time to concentrate on the others.

The other siblings did not have the problems that Emily developed, as not eating because food sickens her could be a way to express the need for attention. This story made me, the reader; reflect on my life. I have left my children several times whether it was an assignment change, field training exercise, duty, daycare, etc. I am close to retiring from the service and I am looking forward to being with my children, even though I have two teenagers and two babies, I can be with them when I am done making my living then my husband can go work for our living. I understand what Tillie is saying, I feel her sense of urgency of wanting to be there for Emily and all of her children, and all of the children want love, affection, and attention from their parents. In order to live you must work and that means you must give up your time until you become a millionaire, and even millionaires have a busy schedule. As seen from a third person point of view we would only know the story as seen through the narrators eyes, what their truth and reality define for the story. This could be gossip, a “he said, she said” mentality. The narrator would not know the character, of how the character feels. If a neighbor told this story, it would be from their observations and reactions.

The neighbor would not have the same feelings or thoughts, even memories, of the character of the story. The neighbor probably would make Momma look like she is neglecting her children, without a steady father during the depression. I believe the author chose the mother’s point of view for the powerful emotion and intimate relationship with her daughter. Because of the experiences and hardships unique to the mother and Emily’s relationship, it is important the point of view be from one of them, and since the mother is the only one to remember their early struggles, which left a heavy impact on Emily’s emotional development, she is the logical one to narrate the story. On a more emotional note, who best to relay love, guilt, and disappointment better than the mom? After raising additional children, experiencing more of life and gaining wisdom, it is easier for her to recognize mistakes and feel the full weight of regret. She is also better able to understand the differences between Emily and the following children who did not experience such hardship.

If the point of view came from another source, such as a neighbor, a lot of emotion and regret would be lost. However, from a third person narration, there might be more of Emily’s point of view involved. I still think it would have lost the mother’s passion, but really we don’t know if Emily’s feelings are in sink with her own, or if she has accepted her life and is just fine with her life. As a mother, I am always second guessing and regretting mistakes, and some times I have felt worse about a situation than my children ever really did. It is so dependent on the child, which we know little about except from the mom’s perspective. Although, I cannot imagine a child being institutionalized and not being negatively impacted (very harsh). “I Stand Here Ironing” is a story told in the first person through the eyes of a middle aged mother who questions the choices she had to make in her children’s upbringing.

I think the author was trying to get across the hard choices a single young mother had to make in order to provide food and shelter for herself and her child. The mother later remarried and had another child. When the baby came the mother was forced once again to make a choice between her daughter and the needs of the baby. The story seems to show the agony that all mothers go through about the choices they made in the upbringing of their children. I found myself relating somewhat to the story and the hardships from my single motherhood days. The mother standing at the ironing board ironing a dress and talking to the daughter seems to be a metaphor of trying to “iron” out the kinks in ones life.

I think that the story would be extremely altered and tell another story of the agony of growing up in a hard world if it was told from the daughter’s point of view. If the daughter told her story she might tell of the hardship of separation from her mother in the early years because her mother had to work to provide for her. After her mother remarried we might see that the child felt even more isolated from her mother and abandoned after being shipped off to the convalescence home. She might have had extreme yearnings for any attention or token of her mother. Towards the end of the story we would see the daughter coming into her own self as she found her place in the world and her peace and happiness.

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