Literary Analysis: I Stand Here Ironing

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Despite its dull, ordinary setting, “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen is an extremely deep short story covering complex socio-economic issues spanning over two—very eventful—decades. The story shows how economic hardships could physically alter the stereotypical gender roles, while cultural traditions kept them mentally intact. When these two elements contradicted each other, they left women, like Tillie Olsen’s character, feeling emotionally responsible for the consequences. Although her husband left her and she was forced to assume the role of both the breadwinner and the homemaker at only nineteen years old, she blames herself for neglecting what was thought to be her primary duty as a woman: motherhood. As the reader can tell from…show more content…
Sigmund Freud and his theories on childhood development were extremely popular and widely accepted all the way up until the 1960s (Felluga). Freud put great emphasis on the impact early childhood development had on becoming a well-adjusted adult. He claims, “The structure of the psyche receives its final form during childhood, specifically at the time of the Oedipus complex” (U. of California). This complex is essential in identifying with either the mother or father, in order to establish sexual orientation (Felluga). During this stage, from ages 4-7, the child finds ways to deal with separation anxiety, and it is also the time that the ego fully matures into the superego: “an internalization of the parental function that eventually manifested itself in your conscience” (Cherry). Emily would have spent this crucial stage of development at the convalescent home with neither her mother nor father there to guide her through it. Although—in present day—Freud’s theories have mostly been discredited, they could have easily exacerbated the mother’s guilt while she was ironing and trying to pinpoint exactly when her daughter’ face became “closed and somber”
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