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Unconditional Love in “I Stand Here Ironing” and “Everyday Use”

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    Ashley Gillette Professor Grimes ENG 171 24 June 2010 Unconditional Love in “I Stand Here Ironing” and “Everyday Use” Unconditional love is a term used to describe complete love. It is affection with no limits or conditions (“Unconditional”). “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker are stories about a mother’s unconditional love toward her daughter. Both stories stem from an intense guilt felt by the mother’s in each story. Both mothers’ feel guilty for the problems that their daughters face.

    Emily’s mother thought of Emily’s childhood as she ironed. Metaphorically, Tillie Olsen described the mother ironing her daughter’s dress as she mentally attempted to “iron” out her daughter’s childhood and their relationship. Through a stream-of-consciousness monologue, the reader could sense that Emily’s mother regretted her decision to have the women below their apartment baby-sit Emily while she worked (or looked for a job). She also regretted leaving Emily with her father’s family while her mother worked nights at a job.

    Most of all, she regretted sending Emily away during her childhood to a convalescent home. In a different way, Mrs. Johnson, the mother of Maggie and Dee in “Everyday Use,” is guilty in the way she parented her daughters. Dee, or “Wangero” as she prefers to be called, was educated and successful, while her sister, Maggie, still lived at home in the South with her mother. Because of Dee’s manipulative behavior, Mrs. Johnson worked hard at raising money in order to send Dee away to school. However, Maggie was forced to remain at home and learn traditional skills because Mrs.

    Johnson only raised enough money to send one daughter. Despite the choices that each mother makes, in the end the reader senses the unconditional love that each have toward their daughter. Emily’s mother described Emily as a beautiful baby. She commented that “she was a miracle to me” (Charters 671). Although her mother regretted leaving Emily with others while she worked, she had no choice. By working, unconditional love was shown because she worked to provide for Emily, no matter what it cost her.

    In addition, she gave up her nights of sleep in order to work during the night so that she could spend the days with Emily. Emily’s mother was extremely guilty that she sent Emily to the convalescent home. Although this was not what she wanted for her daughter, a local clinic convinced her that the home will provide her with the “kind of food and care [Emily’s mother couldn’t] manage for her” (Charter 673). In hopes that they were being truthful, Emily’s mother sent her away – hoping that she would have a better life, despite the pain it would cause her mother.

    Although in the end, the reader realizes that the clinic that suggested the home were wrong, Emily’s mother did not feel confident enough about her own instinct to challenge their suggestion. Although Emily’s mother was not sure how to nurture and care for Emily after she returned home from the convalescent home, she remembers encouraging Emily to use her developed talent for comedic acting at school. One morning after being encouraged by her mother, Emily took her mother’s advice and entered into a amateur show, to Emily’s surprise, she earned first place.

    She called to tell her that “I did it. I won, I won; they gave her first prize” (Charter 675). This is a prime example of unconditional love, even though her mother was lost in what to do for Emily; she still encouraged her to make something of herself. In the moment that she won first place, Emily’s mother stated that “suddenly she was Somebody” (Charter 675). In the end, Emily’s mother decides to “let her be” and again shows her unconditional love as she hopes that Emily will come to know “that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron” (Charters 676).

    She hoped that Emily would realize that she is more than her childhood. Although Dee turned out to be the more successful daughter, Mrs. Johnson shows Maggie’s hidden worth and makes it known to Dee when she returns home with her boyfriend. In doing so, Mrs. Johnson stood up for what was right, not in her benefit, but to benefit Maggie. Although Dee wanted the quilts that their mother was saving as a wedding gift for Maggie, Mrs. Johnson refuses to give in. In this moment, for the first time, she hugs Maggie and takes the quilt from Dee’s hand and gives them to Maggie.

    For once, both daughters sense the unconditional love (which has not been evident) that Mrs. Johnson has toward Maggie. Despite the hardships that each mother faced, each story ended with a glimmer of hope and the realization that unconditional love can move mountains in ones life. Because of each mother’s unconditional love for their daughters, Emily and Maggie, realized their unseen importance. Works Cited Charters, Ann. The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. “Unconditional Love. ” Dictionary. com’s 21st Century Lexicon. Dictionary. com, LLC. 24 Jun. 2010. .

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    What does Emily do in I Stand Here Ironing?
    Emily. The narrator's nineteen-year-old daughter, who, according to an unnamed person, needs help. Emily is the oldest child in the family, a beautiful baby who grew gaunt and sickly as a child. She is just entering womanhood and displaying the beauty and grace that will mark her adult years.
    What does the last line of I Stand Here Ironing mean?
    The narrator's final wish is that Emily will have a strong sense of self-worth and believe that she is more than the dress that is “helpless before the iron.” This comment suggests that the narrator hopes Emily will be able to transcend the narrator's mistakes, rather than succumb to the circumstances of her birth.
    What is the author saying about motherhood in I Stand Here Ironing?
    In “I Stand Here Ironing,” Olsen suggests that the role of selfless mother that society expects women to embrace is actually an obstacle to any kind of successful self-discovery. Rather than help women achieve self-actualization, motherhood actually strands women in lives laden with toil and excessive responsibility.
    What is the metaphor in I Stand Here Ironing?
    Metaphor. One of the story's central metaphors is established in the opening line: I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron. As the narrator irons her daughter (Emily)'s dress, she is also "ironing out" her daughter's path and problems.

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