"I Stand Here Ironing" looks at the themes of women and femininity through the lens of a mother-daughter relationship. Struggling to make ends meet during the Great Depression, the narrator works long hours and is unable to care for her daughter. The narrator is a single, working mother at a time when a more traditional, middle-class, stay-at-home mom was the norm in mainstream American society. Olsen's story takes us inside the mind of the narrator as she juggles the role of mother and breadwinner. The story also gives us a sense of the challenges faced by her daughter, who comes of age in a society that values a Shirley Temple model of girlhood and adolescent femininity. Although the mother-daughter relationship in Olsen's story doesn't fit the mainstream stereotype, it reveals a strong bond; their love for each other is palpable as they share their struggles.
Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" considers how women's choices in life can be constrained by social circumstances.
Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" challenges stereotypical images of womanhood and femininity through its representation of working-class women.