Tillie Olsen's groundbreaking 1978 work on feminism and class in American literature was called Silences. It's not surprising, then, that this story shows as much concern for language as it does for the unspoken, the unwritten, the silenced. The working characters in "I Stand Here Ironing" live in a world in which eloquence is a luxury, where the burden of work and the demands of motherhood leave little time for conversation or dialogue. But the absence of spoken words in the story doesn't mean an absence of thoughts or feelings. In the narrator's interior monologue (the conversation going on inside her head), we hear these thoughts and feelings emerge as they develop on the page.
In Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing," a teacher/counselor's question gives the narrator a rare opportunity to reflect on and make sense of her life.
Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" shows how social circumstances affect the way people communicate their feelings with one another.