I Stand Here Ironing: Characterization

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Characterization is a powerful tool of writing. With it, a reader can glean the innermost natures of characters in a work of literature. Their emotions, opinions, and reactions can all be predicted based on previous situations used by the author to this very purpose. In Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing, the character is a mother who’s been prompted into thought by someone’s worry over her eldest child. This woman’s reaction to this worry, her circumstances, and the words of the people around her grant the reader a well rounded view of her character. The narrator of this piece is first shown to the readers as indignant. Her affronted attitude is evident through diction like “Even if I came, what good would it do?” and “You think because I am her mother I have a key”, but it is also through this word choice that her inner angst is revealed. Her daughter has lived “for nineteen years...outside of [her], beyond [her]...”. With this comes the revelation that she herself doubts her ability to understand her child. The reader is privy to the narrator’s thoughts, and thus are exposed to the circumstances that surrounded the problem child’s raising: a single mother, a working mother, a self admitted distracted mother, and caretakers to whom “she was no miracle”. Through the author’s use of flashback, the narrator’s guilt becomes clear. Her daughter was beautiful “to the seeing eye[,] [b]ut the seeing eyes were few or nonexistent. Including [hers]”. The narrator also questions herself, bringing to mind the possibility that she may not be a reliable, or, at the very least, credible, source of information. A lasting impression is made on the reader as the daughter herself makes an appearance, passing off education as unnecessary because “when we’ll all be atom-dead [it] won’t matter a bit”. Here, the narrator displays her humanity - and her author’s expertise - with
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