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In her short story, “I Stand Here Ironing,” Tillie Olsen explores the ways in which the choices of parents contribute to their children’s coming of age–or lack thereof– in several regards. Her story just barely falls short of a bulleted list of what not to do when raising a child, with a full epilogue on what happens when one does not follow that list. The work speaks volumes about mother-daughter relationships and continuously alludes toward the ways in which those relationships can be severely damaged using clear examples again and again throughout the text. Throughout the course of the story, Olsen provides example after example told first-hand from a mother fallen victim the consequences of her own mistakes, brought about by the unluckiest of circumstances. The objective of Olsen’s story is to illustrate to her audience composed primarily of parents the detrimental effects certain parenting choices can bring, while providing and explaining several examples of these choices, including working far too often, not being attentive enough, and neglecting their children’s basic need for emotional connection.
Toward the beginning of the story, Olsen describes through her narrator the ringing of a small child’s haunting words still ever present in the ears of the emotionally detached mother from whom the story is based. “‘Can’t you go some other time, Mommy, like tomorrow?’ she would ask. ‘Will it be just a little while you’ll be gone? Do you promise?’” (3). It is here that the reader first gets a glimpse of Emily’s internal struggle. These are not just the words of a typical child missing her mother. It is evident that there is some deeper underlying issue going on with Emily due to her mother’s frequent absence. This entity is reinforced while the mother recounts her daughter’s next words as she comes back home to find her wide awake and frightened in the middle of the night. “It wasn’t just a little while,” the young girl announced so boldly. “I didn’t cry. Three times I called you, just three times, and then I ran downstairs to open the door so you could come faster” (Olsen 3). The mother in the story works long hours and is constantly away from her young daughter, and too often, the girl is left at home alone with no supervision, no babysitter, no comforter.
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