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I Stand Here Ironing

I Stand Here Ironing


by Tillie Olsen

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

While ironing, a mother thinks about her daughter..

A counselor or teacher asks the narrator for some insights into her daughter. This question prompts the narrator to reflect on her daughter's life.


The mother struggles to make ends meet when her daughter is born.

The narrator thinks back to the circumstances of Emily's birth. The narrator was nineteen at the time, and the father had left them. The narrator sought work while leaving Emily in the hands of not-so-caring babysitters.


The narrator remarries, but Emily still has trouble fitting in.

The narrator's remarriage brings more stability (and more children) into their lives, but Emily continues to be plagued with health problems and has trouble keeping up in school.


As a teenager, Emily reveals a talent for comedy.

On a whim, Emily puts on a comedy act for her high school talent show, and the audience loves it. All of a sudden, it seems as if Emily is getting all the attention she had never received as a child.


Emily interrupts the narrator while she is thinking.

At this point, the narrator's reflections are interrupted by Emily herself, who has returned home. Emily's flippant attitude toward her education contrasts with the promise she displays as a performer.


Emily goes to bed, while the narrator continues to iron.

The narrator continues her ironing, as well as her reflections about her daughter. The fact that there seems to be no progress in the narrator's thoughts and actions suggests that she hasn't come to any conclusions about her daughter's life.


The narrator asks the imaginary person she's having a conversation with to help Emily.

This ending is pretty inconclusive: the narrator still hasn't resolved her conflicting feelings about Emily. She isn't sure if Emily will ever fulfill her promise, or if she will let her talent go to waste. She ends her imaginary conversation with Emily's teacher by asking the teacher to help Emily realize her potential.

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