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I Stand Here Ironing

I Stand Here Ironing


by Tillie Olsen

Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?

The ending is in many ways a response to the title (see "What's Up with the Title?"). As the story draws to a close, the narrator's daughter Emily pops in and asks her mother if she will ever stop ironing. At this point in the story, we know this is a highly charged question. If "ironing" stands in for all of the material difficulties – poverty, single motherhood, illness, etc. – that made the narrator a "distracted mother," Emily's question is really about whether her mother will ever pay attention to her.

The end of the story suggests that Emily has gotten her wish. The story ends with a response to the teacher that sounds like a prayer: "Let her be." The last paragraph's opening has a biblical echo of "let it be" (or an echo of the Beatles song, depending on your frame of reference). The narrator goes on, "Only help her to know – help make it so there is cause for her to know – that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron" (56). Even though the mother-narrator is still not confident that her daughter will escape her mother's (the narrator's) fate, "helpless before the iron," she has at least the fervent hope that she will realize the immense promise of her talent.

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