Narrator’s Guilt in Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing

December 21, 2020 by Essay Writer

In the melancholic short story ‘ I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olsen, Olsen uses the narrator’s sense of guilt on her daughter’s situation to progress the ideology that economic and physical hopelessness, leads to an unwanted lamentation of one’s choices made in life.

Olsen’s accurately depicts the narrator’s solemn nature,which the author highlights in the narrator’s deep-rooted acceptance of being too naive and her lack of wisdom at an early maternal age, in being able help cope with young Emily’s feelings. The narrator’s lack of income is partly to blame, and acknowledged, in the fact that Emily was never able to receive the proper childhood other kids got to have. The narrator’s continuous distance from Emily on many occasions, due to their economic and living arrangements, is highlighted in the young daughter’s shy and somber personality, and her physical anorexia. The narrator’s guilt is a constant occurrence throughout the short story, emphasizing the resentment she feels at not being able to have made correct decisions at a young age or having her ‘…wisdom come to late.’

Also, the narrator displays a slight sense of acceptance in the fact that knowing the Great Depression took place during Emily’s upbringing, there was not much the narrator or anyone else could do at the time to make things better. The narrator’s realization having understood that Emily’s hidden, amazing qualities were overshadowed by her distress, was one of the more rare parts of the story in which the narrator displayed any sort of positive emotion. The narrator’s constant display of anxiety towards Emily, shows the narrator’s care and maturity in effect, as years later, she has finally learned from her mistakes and able to accpet them. DIsregarding any sort of economic or physical well-being, the narrator has come to terms in cherishing Emily for who she currently is, and is now proud of her comedic abilities and the person she has now become.

Olsen does a tremendous job in not only the organization of thoughts within the story, but being able to characterize the narrator’s growth in mentality from being a young mother to now a much wiser one. The narrator’s guilt is readily apparent throughout the story, and Olsen is able to use that guilt to describe thoroughly of how stressful life was for the narrator and Emily. Knowing that she was partially responsible for Emily’s stunt in development, the narrator also slightly emphasizes the societal burden she had to face raising her alone, and the unsympathetic nature of society around her not being able to help the narrator out.


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