I Stand Here Ironing
by Tillie Olsen
Where It All Goes Down
A working-class home, 1950s America
Olsen's story takes place in the most ordinary of settings: a mother, at home, ironing. As the story develops, this generic setting starts to take on specific characteristics. We learn that we are in a working-class home, in a family that is used to the strains of economic hardship, in an America just emerging from World War II.
This domestic, traditionally feminine setting – a mother ironing – seems to be separate from the larger world of historical events, class struggle, economic development, and political power. But this mother's private story is actually an important response to the larger world.
Without being explicitly political, the story weaves in references to the Great Depression, World War II, and Hiroshima to show how the world "out there" is a world of destruction, death, violence, and injustice. It's a world where those in power can't be trusted to work for the ordinary person's best interest (an ordinary person like the unnamed narrator-mother, for example). In this historical context, Olsen's intimate story is actually a way of speaking truth to power, of representing the life and struggle of an ordinary person.