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The Effects of the Great Depression on American Women in I Stand Here Ironing by Tillie Olsen

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The catalyst for feminism.
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  The effects of the Great Depression on American women in  I stand here ironing   by Tillie Olsen  by Mihaela Toma  I stand here ironing   is a short story written by Tillie Olsen and published in the short story collection titled Tell me a riddle  in 1961. The story tells the tale of an American woman that relates the hardships she has endured while raising her eldest daughter, Emily. The story is told from a first person perspectie and the action is set during the !reat epression and the #econd $orld $ar. % intend to loo& into the influence of the economical and historical conte'ts on American households.The entire story consists of a monologue told through stream of consciousness. The narrator is a woman that loo&s bac& on the mista&es she made with respect to  bringing up her daughter Emily. The monologue is set off by a telephone discussion with a person in a position of authority with regards to Emily(s education. The narrator, who is Emily(s mother, shows confusion when the other person on the phone suggests that she might hae better insight into Emily(s personality and thought process. The narrator feels distant from Emily and she is guilty and shameful of failing to help Emily reach her full  potential. $hen Emily was born, the narrator was nineteen years old. After eight months, the narrator(s husband left because he could no longer stand the poerty. )aing no other means of supporting herself, the narrator was forced to get a *ob and placed Emily in the care of a neighbour who didn(t treat Emily with affection or care. Eentually, Emily was sent to her father(s family to be ta&en care of. $hen the girl turned two, she was placed in a day care facility, because her mother had to wor& during the day in order to support the family. At another point in her life, when Emily was sic& with tuberculosis, she was sent to stay at a conalescent home.  To summari+e things, all throughout her life, Emily was placed in the care of others and that changed her from a happy, energetic girl to a somber and introerted  person. Emily has difficulty in school, because she is not popular. )er loo&s are dar& and she is considered to be a slow learner. uring that time, girls that were fair and blonde, with a per&y demeanor and a uic&ness of mind were alued. At that time in America, society was in faour of a melting pot population as opposed to nowadays, where the tendency is towards a salad bo' approach. Emily was the oldest of fie children, her mother haing remarried. )er younger sister #usan is all that she wishes to be. #he has  blonde hair and uic& wit and although she is fie years younger than Emily, she loo&s only a year apart. Emily, haing lied in other people(s care for most of her childhood and haing suffered through the measles and tuberculosis loo&s drawn and slim. Emily has self confidence issues, which ma&e her resent #usan, who is eerything she wishes she could be.The action is set against the bac&drop of the !reat epression, where it was difficult for single mothers to care for their children. The narrator blames Emily(s deelopment on the socio-economical circumstances at the time, but ac&nowledges that she had a hand in what went wrong, because she was a young mother and didn(t &now how to treat her daughter. ecause she had to wor& and ta&e care of her child, the mother was ery glum and she beliees that her past attitude remained ingrained in Emily. The narrator confesses that while she was nineteen and wor&ing to support her child, she did not hae the lu'ury of stopping and considering what effects her actions will hae on Emily in the future. ecause of the poor conditions she grew under, Emily did not hae the lu'ury of misbehaing or causing problems normal children cause eery day. #he had to tolerate unpleasantness and get used to it. The story reeals a realistic side to motherhood from those times. !one were the days when the mother was all smiles and acted as a guide for eerything the children accomplished. The narrator confesses to leaing Emily alone for many hours after she was remarried. After she had other children, the narrator tried to change her attitude towards Emily, but it was too late, because by that time Emily had started to rebuff affection and care from her mother. The story shows that the romantici+ed iew of the  /ideal mother0 had no bearing in reality and that the lower classes had to struggle greatly in order to proide the bare necessities. Although the narrator reali+es that she has failed Emily, she shows no intention of trying to remedy the situation. #he simply e'presses the hope that Emily will turn out fine in the end, as a result of her own struggle. There is a sort of passiity that permeates the story, which shows that the narrator considers difficulties to be a part of life and that she has faced them, so it is only natural that her child face them too. $hile other mothers would attempt to preent their child from going oer the same hurdles that they did themseles, in this case, the mother has accepted the fact that she can do nothing to  preent future anguish.As it happened in many cases throughout history, poerty and low self esteem  producde great thin&ers, entertainers and in many cases, great comedic minds. This is the case with Emily. To escape the blea&ness of her life, she deeloped her comedic s&ills. This is a form of escapism, that many children tend to do when they are dissilussioned with their daily lies. #usan, Emily(s younger sister li&es to ta&e Emily(s stories and riddles and present them as her own, because she has no problems with self esteem and li&es to be in the center of attention. This intensifies Emily(s disli&e of her younger sister. )oweer, once her mother encourages her to show her comedic s&ill at school, Emily  begins to receie pri+es and becomes ery popular. This is not necessarily a good thing,  because if in the past Emily was marginali+ed due to her loo&s and her being considered a slow learned, now she is singled out due to her humour and popularity. $hile seeing her on stage, her mother confesses that she does not recogni+e that Emily, which shows command of the stage and ample confidence. $hile on stage, Emily impersonates different characters, which shows that she longs to be someone else, to escape from her own reality.The title of the story illustrates the main theme perfectly. %roning represents the responsibility that women hae for their children. %ronically enough, this responsibility  preents the narrator from being a better mother for her daughter. Another interpretation of the title could be that while her daughter is growing up, the mother concerns herself with unimportant chores. #he is ironing her daughter(s dress, showing concern for her appearance, while totally disregarding her daughter(s issues with her loo&s. The repetitie  moement of the iron bac& and forth across the garment is a metaphor for the thought  process of the mother, who is going bac& and forth oer what she did wrong in raising Emily.%n an America set in the !reat epression, motherhood is not longer a process of self-actuali+ation and deelopment for women. $hat it does is strand them on an island filled with responsibilities and obstacles for self-growth that seem insurmountable. The so-called bond that e'ists between mother and child is absent in this story. The narrator confesses that she does not &now the true nature of her child and that she has already resigned herself to the thought that she neer will. This story is groundbrea&ing in that it manages to lift the eil off people(s eyes and show that enironmental factors hae changed the dynamic of American families, that mothers can no longer be there for their children, because they hae other pressing issues, which relegate interaction with children to second place. To better understand the story it is necessary to place it at the *unction of two forces. The first one is the !reat epression, while the second one is the feminist moement that started in the 192(s. The action ta&es place before the $3A 4The $or& 3rogress Administration5 was instituted. The $3A was an agency that found *obs for  people, instead of giing them welfare. 4rye, 19978 115 The struggles that women faced during the !reat epression acted as a catalyst for the emergence of the feminist moement not long after. aced with poerty and a growing number of responsibilities, without any benefits, women sought to gain more rights for themseles.%n the story, the narrator calls Emily /a child of her age, of depression, of war and fear.0 4Olsen, :22;8 725 This uotation shows Tillie Olsen(s belief that indiidual lies can be greatly influenced by all manner of enironmental factors and that only so much can be done to oercome these obstacles, which means that an entire generation of people were molded by the effects of the !reat epression and the emergence of the #econd $orld $ar  Bibliography: O<#E=, T. 4:22;5, /% #tand )ere %roning.0 The Seagull Reader Stories: Second  Edition.  Ed. >oseph ?elley. =ew @or&8 =orton, 721-712. 3rint
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