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How to Cope with The Society’s Iron in Tillie Olsen‘s ‘i Stand Here Ironing’

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Regardless of whom they are and/or how they were raised, I Stand Here Ironing tells readers that everyone has the ability to be more than what the people around them as well as society as a whole tells them that they have to be. This is not exactly a groundbreaking idea, but the way the story is told is anything but ordinary. The entire short story is an inner monologue of the narrator; a worried mother presumably of middle or lower class. The iron the narrator is using in the story is actually a symbol for societal pressures, and the clothing that is being ironed represents the narrator’s daughter, Emily, who is the main focus of the story. One could also say that, “The physical act of smoothing wrinkles with an iron echoes the mental realignment of memories of the mother’s actions and emotions” (Snodgrass). It is in the narrator’s stream of consciousness that readers are introduced to the conflict of the story; the narrator has been approached by an unknown outsider, presumably a teacher, with concerns about Emily’s behavior and wellbeing. Emily’s upbringing was definitely not perfect, it was difficult and stressful for both her and her mother, but it was the best that they could do at the time which is why the narrator does not look back with pity. Instead, she reminisces with, “realistic resignation to the circumstances of her daughter’s life” (Snodgrass). There is a sense of privacy and meditation in the way the story is presented that adds to the beauty of it all in a manner that would not occur if it was told in any way other than as this sort of intrapersonal narrative. Through this, the narrator shows readers a very raw version of what motherhood that is in a way that is, “stripped of romantic distortion, and reinfused with the power of genuine metaphorical insight into the problems of selfhood in the modern world” (Frye, 287). In the end, the narrator knows that her daughter will be okay because she is confident that Emily has grown up to be mentally and emotionally strong enough to stay true to herself even when faced with the heat of society’s iron.


This is probably my favorite work we’ve read in the class so far. I found it to be absolutely beautiful, but incredibly heartbreaking at the same time. I know that most people would probably think that the mother was the most relatable, but I liked the idea of Emily the best. I think that in a lot of ways Emily reminded me of myself and the narrator made me think of my own mother which is why this story made me really emotional; something that is normally very rare. There were a lot of parallels between the characters in the story and my own personal life that took me by surprise.

For instance, I myself am one of five children. My mother raised my older sister, my twin sister, and myself on her own after she divorced my unstable father when I was three. Nine years later, she remarried and I got a stepdad and two new stepsisters. The only real difference I could find between Emily and I was that she is the oldest and I am the youngest. When I read this story, I imagined a similar story where I was Emily and the narrator as my mother. In my version of the story there is no note from a concerned adult asking for my mom to talk, instead there is what was meant to be my suicide note from last year, and my mom isn’t standing over her ironing board, rather she’s next to my hospital bed, but just like the narrator in I Stand Here Ironing she is trying to justify my upbringing and desperately trying to assure herself that how I turned out was not entirely her fault. I found myself crying as I got to the end of the story because I felt so selfish and petty when I thought back to how my mother must have felt when she read my own note just over 9 months ago. This was not the first time I had thought about how my suicide attempt must have had affected my family, but this time it was unexpected and I was not prepared at all for how I would react. I was left with tons of questions about how they all must have felt, especially my mom. I was in the hospital for two weeks, is this what she did every day that I was there? Does she still do this? Does she know that it wasn’t her fault? Reading this short story was a brutal awakening and I don’t know if it will ever not be an emotional experience for me, but I liked it anyways because it made me empathize with how awful my family must have felt and I appreciate their support of my recovery even more now that I’ve opened my eyes to this.

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How To Cope With The Society’s Iron In Tillie Olsen‘S ‘I Stand Here Ironing’. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from
“How To Cope With The Society’s Iron In Tillie Olsen‘S ‘I Stand Here Ironing’.” GradesFixer, 05 Nov. 2018,
How To Cope With The Society’s Iron In Tillie Olsen‘S ‘I Stand Here Ironing’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Jul. 2022].
How To Cope With The Society’s Iron In Tillie Olsen‘S ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Nov 05 [cited 2022 Jul 3]. Available from:
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