Stand Here Ironing, by Tillie Olson [...] how it deals with the subject of women, especially poor women. Societies have always oppressed their weakest members, and women have always been perceived as the "weaker" sex. Olsen illustrates the suffering of poor women as they attempt to live a decent live and raise their children with dignity while making sure they can better themselves and live a more rewarding life.
STAND HERE IRONING
Tillie Olsen, who wrote this story in 1961, knew what poor people faced. She was born in Nebraska in 1913, and her parents were Jewish immigrants. Her father became a vocal member of the Socialist Party, and his daughter picked up his blue-collar ideas. When she was young, she worked as a waitress, in factories, and in warehouses, so she fully understood what she wrote about, and the difficulties poor women faced in society. She tried to organize factory workers, and belonged to the Communist Party. "As a union worker she took part in the San Francisco Warehouse Strike of 1934 and spent more time in jail. In 1936 she married Jack Olsen, a printer. To help support their three daughters Olsen worked as, among other things, a waitress, laundress, and secretary" (Bloom 53).
Women have continually been oppressed in society, and this oppression is often bemoaned in literature, in drama, and in poetry. It is not a new or unique theme. Olsen can write about female oppression so effectively because she has experienced it first-hand, and "I Stand Here Ironing" is probably one of her best and most studied pieces that show what poor women face in the ghettos of America. Her story specifically demonstrates how women had to live during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when jobs were scarce. Not only were the women affected, their children were affected, too. Some of them never had a chance to really enjoy their childhood. Emily, the daughter in the story, must care for the other children in the family, and the stress of it wears on her, just as it weighs on her mother. Her mother remembers,
She was a miracle to me, but when she was eight months old I had to leave her daytimes with the woman downstairs to whom she was no miracle at all, for I worked or looked for work and for Emily's father, who "could no longer endure" (he wrote in his good-bye note) "sharing want with us" (Olsen NEED PAGE #).
The story is extremely well written, and although it is short, it clearly and lyrically makes its points about poverty, neglect, and longing. This mother clearly loves her daughter, and it shows in the language Olsen uses, as the above paragraph obviously demonstrates. This is a mother torn between her family and her need to support them, just as mothers still are today. She remembers leaving her daughter in childcare. "She was two. Old enough for nursery school they said, and I did not know then what I know now - the fatigue of the long day, and the lacerations of group life in the kinds of nurseries that are only parking places for children" (Olsen).
Olsen's story then is almost timeless, for working women today feel many of the same things this working woman of the 1930s felt. She feels guilt for leaving her family alone with her young daughter, and she feels guilty for heaping so much responsibility on Emily at such a young age.
Her concerns with sorting through Emily's past are her concerns with defining the patterns of motherhood and of the limitations on her capacity to care for and support the growth of another human being. As she rethinks the past, she frames her perceptions through such interjections as "I did not know then what I know now" and "What in me demanded that goodness in her?" (Bloom 54).
It is never easy to care for a family as a single parent. When Olsen's story takes place, in the poverty stricken 1930s, it was not easy for anyone to take care of a family, let alone a single woman. Women were not paid as much, and were expected to have a "man" around to help take care of the family. Because she was not living with Emily's father, she was looked down on by society - as if she were some type of "fallen" woman. Emily suffered for it too, and it must have been extremely difficult for both of them.…