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Expressing Relationships Through Figurative Language in I Stand Here Ironing

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“I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen is a first-person story following the narrator’s daughter starting from birth all the way through the most important moments in her daughter’s life. The narrator feels as if she was not invested in her daughter’s life nearly as much as she should have been. Her daughter, Emily, was a shy girl growing up who seemed to be neglected often. With Emily’s family growing up in poverty and without a father figure there, the narrator should have always been there for her which is why the narrator is regretful for not showing the love she felt Emily needed. Emily has one of the toughest lives a child could have as she grows up basically alone. Olsen used figurative language in his story to display the mother daughter relationship more thoroughly. He used symbolism and repetition to interpret the narrator and daughter’s relationship in depth. Figurative language in “I Stand Here Ironing” was the best way to reflect the mother and daughter’s connection as it illuminates the flaws and regrets the narrator has for neglecting her child.

The symbolism of the iron is highlights neglect between the narrator and her daughter because it displays the constant work that created a barrier between the two. The narrator describes her house life by saying, “There was so little time left at night after the kids were bedded down… I would be ironing, or preparing food for the next day, or writing V-mail to Bill, or tending the baby”. She has so much to do as the hours in a day are limited and they are all consumed by work whether it be her job or chores around the house. Ironing and other chores is a symbol for their poor connection as she has to do her job as mom and as an employee while bouncing between being a parent. She has to do a significant amount of work just to make sure her family gets by while she sacrifices showing affection needed for her daughter while doing so. The narrator loves her child, but she cannot show it which creates a poor connection between her and Emily. This is ironic because as she cares for her child and does her motherly duties, she is also straying away from her child. She is not really involved in Emily’s life although she is really taking care of her daughter at the same time. The iron moving back and forth while in use further symbolizes the narrator’s connection with her children as she has to constantly go back and forth between her work and her kids. This is unhealthy as a child should have a parental figure there for them a majority of their young lives. This shows conflict in the relationship between the care giver and the child as a child really just needs his or her parent to be present. Children have a need to feel wanted but the narrator cannot fulfill this need, leading to an unhealthy relationship between mother and child. Even though Emily’s mom is putting in hours of labor to support and care for her child, she is not doing the most important job as a parent which is being there for her physically and emotionally.

Emily’s balcony symbolizes her emotional distance with her mother as they still are unable to have that personal connection a child yearns for. Emily is diagnosed with tuberculosis and is sent away from her mother to recover. The narrator is only allowed to visit Emily on Sundays making her presence in Emily’s life even less than previously. Every Sunday, Emily is out on the balcony of her cottage in which she has to shout to her mother to talk to her. The physical distance also represents the emotional distance between the two as they far apart in both aspects. There is even a notice from the recovery center asking for no physical contact between the patient and the visitors as it could contaminate them. It shows how the mother is the reason for the daughter’s poor physical and emotional health. The narrator is the contaminate. Maybe Emily would feel better physically and emotionally if she was looked after properly without the neglect she had faced.

Repetition shows the mother’s love for Emily and how she regrets not being there for her as she cannot stop expressing love for her child. The narrator continuously states “she is a beautiful baby.” The narrator is showing her passion for her child and how proud she is. The physical and emotional distance between Emily and her mom is not because the narrator dislikes Emily. It is actually the opposite as the narrator is just trying to protect her family by continuously working for the betterment and survival of them. It does not slip the narrator’s mind that she was neglectful of her daughter. She regrets it throughout the rest of her days and wonders how she could have had a better connection with her child. The narrator is proud of her daughter and all the circumstances she has overcome and only wishes for Emily’s best life.

In conclusion, Olsen uses figurative language repeatedly to get the point across that there is a weak connection between the narrator and her daughter. However, this does not necessarily mean that the narrator dislikes Emily. It is actually the opposite as the narrator regrets the neglect towards her daughter and worked so hard between her job and house chores for the sole purpose of the survival of her family,.

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Expressing Relationships Through Figurative Language In I Stand Here Ironing. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 18, 2022, from
“Expressing Relationships Through Figurative Language In I Stand Here Ironing.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Expressing Relationships Through Figurative Language In I Stand Here Ironing. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Jan. 2022].
Expressing Relationships Through Figurative Language In I Stand Here Ironing [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2022 Jan 18]. Available from:
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