I Stand Here Ironing
by Tillie Olsen
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
The title prepares us for the narrator before we learn anything about her: her name, her circumstances, or her personality. What kind of a person would say "I stand here ironing?" We think this person is probably a woman, a woman who does not have the money to pay for someone else to do the laundry, a woman who, if she is ironing constantly, probably has a large family to care for.
Our guesses would be right on target. The title is echoed in the first sentence of the story. We learn that our narrator is a mother with a large family, who is interrupted in the course of her routine by a troubling question from her daughter's teacher (or counselor…we're never told exactly who poses the question). The question "moves tormented back and forth with the iron," the narrator thinks (1). As she looks back over her life and circumstances, the continuous movement of the ironing clues us in to the continuous stream of poverty and responsibilities that distract her from giving Emily her full attention and care. Throughout the story, rare moments of insight or emotional intensity will interrupt the steady movement of the ironing.