Time And Guilt Essay, Research Paper
Time and Guilt
In Tillie Olsen’s narrative “I Stand Here
Ironing,” I interpreted that there was a reflection of
the loss of time and the sense of guilt between a
mother and daughter. This is displayed in the authors
word choice, point of view, imagery and tone.
Olsen begins her narrative while ironing and
talking on the phone. Her daughter needs help, she is
told. So she begins to ask herself a million questions.
She wonders why her daughter needs help, how she can
help her, and what she could have done to prevent her
from straying so far in the first place. As these
questions run through her mind the iron in her hand
moves swiftly back and forth in rhythm, throughout the
entire narrative. Ironing being an act of boredom.
With each movement she has a new thought regarding her
daughter; she questions how she could have raised her
to be a better person.
In this essay one senses Emily’s resentment toward
her mother. This is because of the way in which she had
been treated, for it is clearly obvious that Emily was
unknowingly denied the love and attention a normal
child would receive. What is odd though is that
throughout the narrative one can feel the love Olsen
has for her daughter. Nevertheless, this love that
Olsen claims to have for her daughter, is not expressed
enough to Emily, which, therefore, leads Emily to
acquire many feelings of resentment, neglect and
perhaps even betrayal toward her mother. A good example
occurs when Olsen is confronted about her love for her
daughter, and she says, “What was in my face when I
looked at her?” This clearly shows how unaware she is
of her daughter’s feelings.
This is suggested continuously throughout the
story when Olsen recounts how she had to send her
daughter away while she worked. Although, the act was
unintentional, too much time away from one’s loved one,
for too long can have a drastic effect on a person;
most especially a child.
That is why Emily seems so bitter; “She was a
child seldom smiled at,” (6). Who could blame her for
not smiling? She had been sent away from her family
during so many key points in her life. First, she had
been sent way when she was a baby in order for her mom
to get back on her feet. Next, she was sent away to a
convalescent hospital where she was again separated
from her family. How was she supposed to live a normal
life when all that she loved and depended on kept
leaving her life? Emily was constantly denied
stability, and that is a major factor in allowing her
to lead a normal life.
Olsen says her husband “could no longer endure
sharing want” with them (2). When broken down, “want”
suggests that he did not care to share a life of
poverty with them. Could this be true also for Olsen
toward Emily, but in a different text? To Olsen, what
if it means that she can no longer continue to hold
expectations for her daughter? Does that not constitute
for want also?
Maybe that is what the whole story is about. On
the outside it looks like a story about a conflict
between mother and daughter, but there are many
interpretations to be pondered. What if the story is
really about a mother that drops all expectations for
her daughter in order for her to lead a normal life
before it is too late? Or, better yet, maybe it is
Emily that can no longer endure want?
Whatever the case is, one thing is for sure and
that is that Emily has been denied something that could
have made her whole.
Olsen uses such verbs as remember, sift, weigh,
estimate, total, all of which mean that she must
consider carefully. In the beginning these words are
used to show how Olsen begins to examine her daughter’s
life. In the conclusion, she employs the words
dredging; which means to dig up or search, compounds;
which means to combine or add, and total again, which
in this case means to sum up. This suggests that in the
end she has concluded her observation of her daughter,
and that is that she will never come to a conclusion of
her daughter. She will never “total” it all.
Tillie Olsen writes a great story about raising
her daughter, Emily. She makes good use of word choice
in describing their life story, informing us of how
being a single parent was hard, and that the war did
not contribute any good either to raising her daughter.
Olsen excels at getting across her point of view and
that is that maybe she could have helped Emily if she
had had more time and more knowledge. Olsen builds us a
good setting to the point that we can see Emily waving
from the patio of the hospital, or we can see her
playing with her sister; she makes good use of imagery.
And furthermore, Olsen sets a tone throughout the story
which, combined with word choice and imagery, allows us
to feel the emotion of her story.
Olsen is ironing throughout the story, showing us
how boring their life is moving back and forth in the
same direction. Guilt, although the word is indirectly
used, is sensed every time she speaks of Emily and even
more so in the tone of the essay. In conclusion, “I
Stand Here Ironing” is about the need for time and the
feeling of guilt a mother has for her daughter. Maybe
with a little more love and knowledge their lives would
not be so static. In other words, less like the iron.