The Distant Relationship between a Daughter and Her Mother Senior year is time for high school students to celebrate their accomplishments and move on to their new life – an independent life from parents. However, you should respect and appreciate these last moments of love, care and support from your parents because many unfortunate children such as Emily in “I Stand Here Ironing” story written by Tillie Olsen have not received all the care from their parents since their youth age.
Olsen expresses successfully in this monologue story the distance between a mother and her daughter along with the mother’s guilty feeling of not being able to fix their relationship. “I Stand Here Ironing” story begins with the dialogue of the unnamed narrator, a mother, who is ironing while speaking on the phone with an unnamed individual who is most likely a social worker, teacher, or counselor. This person has asked the narrator to help him or her understand the narrator’s daughter, Emily, a young woman whom the person claims is in need of assistance.
However, the narrator said, “you think because I am her mother I have a key … that has happened outside of me, beyond me” (Olsen 62). It is strange for a mother to make this statement, but Emily’s mother believes she is inefficient to change Emily. Then, she sinks in her own memory about Emily to explain her inability. With emotional voice, the narrator starts describing how beautiful Emily was when she was a baby and breast-fed by the narrator. It seems like she used to have very close relationship with Emily.
However, the story changes from warm feeling of a mother to her first born child to the cold distant relationship between them. When Emily was eight months old, the narrator was forced to leave her in the care of a neighbor because Emily’s father had left unexpectedly, unable to bear the family’s poverty. The unlucky mother recalls running home from work to retrieve Emily, who always cried when she spotted her. Eventually, the narrator sent Emily to live with her father’s family. Until Emily was two, the narrator got her back, but she worked long hours and placed Emily in day care.
Emily always made reasons, so she could stay home with her mother “but never a direct protest, never rebellion” toward her mother’s decision (Olsen 63). It does not matter how obedient Emily was, she was sent away to another’s care a second time. Then, Emily’s subsequent return, but this time adjusting to a new stepfather. The narrator thought “perhaps it was a better time” (Olsen 64) for her and Emily. In contrast, the distance between Emily and her mother increases. She and her second husband often left Emily alone for hours.
Even though she felt very guilty about it, she kept “telling (herself that Emily) was old enough” (Olsen 64). When the narrator went to the hospital to have another daughter, Susan, Emily was sick with the measles to the point that “she stayed skeleton thin, not wanting to eat” (Olsen 64), and having nightmares but “twice, only twice when (narrator) had to get up for Susan anyhow, (she) went to sit with (Emily)” (Olsen 64). Clearly, this unnamed mother did not complete her responsible with Emily as a mother with a daughter.
The narrator neglects Emily to the point when “it is too late” (Olsen 64) to rebuild relationship with her. Emily always answered with cold voice, “‘No, I’m all right, go back to sleep, Mother. ’” (Olsen 64) when her mother “(comforts) her like (she does) the others” (Olsen 64). The unnamed mother’s voice fulfills with guilt because she is always absent in Emily’s life when this poor child needed love, care and support from her own mother, but she seems helpless to have other choices. Suffering from tuberculosis, Emily was sent away from her mother again to a convalescent home, where she could be better cared for.
While Emily is at the recovery center, she is cut off from almost all communication especially relationship with her own mother. Even the letters the narrator writes to her are read to her once and then thrown away. Parents are allowed to visit only every other Sunday, when the children line up on the balconies of their cottages and conduct shouted conversations with the parents who stand below. Emily’s balcony in particular represents the emotional distance between the narrator and her daughter. The narrator seems unable to establish direct contact with Emily, either in the recovery center or their home life.
The narrator notes how Emily grew slowly more distant and emotionally unresponsive. Emily returned home frail, distant, and rigid, with little appetite. Each time Emily returned, she was forced to reintegrate into the changing fabric of the household. Clearly, Emily and the narrator have been absent from each other’s lives during significant portions of Emily’s development. After so much absence, the narrator intensifies her attempts to show Emily affection, but these attempts are rebuffed, coming too late to prevent Emily’s withdrawal from her family and the world.
Although Emily is now at home with the narrator, the sense of absence continues even in the present moment of the story. Emily, the narrator’s central preoccupation, appears only as a fleeting presence. She enters the story only long enough to interrupt the narrator’s musings on the past. Mother and daughter exist on the edges of each other’s lives, and the narrator sees Emily as a mystery, even a stranger. Along in monologue story, although the narrator sounds angry that she had no choices than to send Emily away, she is very proud of Emily’s talent for comedy and acting.
Good at imitations and comic performances, Emily, with the narrator’s encouragement, entered and won school talent show. Emily began performing widely, blossoming into a talented performer. But without the money and encouragement to develop her talent, her potential remained unfulfilled. The narrator acknowledges her inability to improve Emily’s fortunes in life, she faces a spiritual defeat. By the end of the story, we can understand clearly the narrator’s open lined, “I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moved tormented back and forth with the iron” (Olsen 62).
It establishes the oppressive world of domestic tasks that punctuate the narrator’s life and form the background for any consideration of more abstract concerns. The word “tormented” reveals the extent of the narrator’s guilt at the lack of attention and limited opportunities Emily has suffered. The ironing is an inescapable fact of life, and the narrator, although “tormented,” can do nothing about it. “I Stand Here Ironing” is the narrator’s meditation on the nature of guilt and regret in her life as a mother.
The narrator recognizes the powerful influence of poverty and oppressive conditions that women were forced to accept in the early to mid-twentieth century, but she does not deny her own contributions to the maladjusted young woman Emily has become. In the story’s present moment, Emily returns home and fixes herself something to eat. The narrator assures the person she is addressing that Emily “is child of her age, of depression, of war, of fear” (Olsen 68) and immediately preceding the narrator’s exhortation regarding Emily to “Let her be” (Olsen 68).
It encapsulates the narrator’s belief that individual lives can be waylaid by uncontrollable, overpowering forces. “I Stand Here Ironing” – a monologue story of a single mother had no choice but to prioritize work, wage earning in the World War II and did not have time to complete her responsible with her daughter. Although she feels guilty about it, “ironing” is duty of life which she cannot reject and her daughter, Emily has to accept her neglect as a part of life at that time.