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An Analysis of Tillie Olsen’s excerpt from I Stand Here Ironing

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1 An Analysis of Tillie Olsen’s excerpt from I Stand Here Ironing
“Well, daughter, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair…But all the time I’se been a-climbin’ on” -Quote by Langston Hughes, adapted by Heather, Kayla, and Izzy

2 What or Theme Statement
Because the mother is characterized as recognizing her past flaws and failures, her attitude toward her daughter is one of defeated love

3 How or Literary Elements
Lines 1-26 Metaphor Rhetorical Questions Polysyndeton Tonal Shift Point of View/Parallel Structur Lines 27-60 Juxtaposition Cacophonous Diction Euphonious Diction Point of view Understatement Lines 61-88 Point of view shifts Parallelism Cacophonous diction Metaphor Polysyndeton

4 Lines 1-26

5 Recognition of flaws/Failures
Metaphor of the iron: “I stand here ironing, and what you ask me moves tormented back and forth with the iron” (1-2) Ironing: the process of straightening out wrinkles or imperfections

6 Defeated Attitude Rhetorical questions:
“What good would it do? You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key?” (7-9) Draws attention to the mother’s apprehension/ discouraged attitude Polysyndeton: “And when is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total?” (12-13) Emphasis added with each addition – a long list of things to accomplish

7 Love for Daughter Tonal Shift: “She was a beautiful baby” (18)
Positive language immediately following a negative/ defeated paragraph – no transition Two tones about one subject (her daughter) Short in length – greater impact Point of View/ Parallel Structure: “You do not guess how new and uneasy her tenancy in her now- loveliness. You did not know her all those years…” (19-21) The mother is distinguished from “you” (the others) She sees her daughter in a way that others cannot

8 LINES 27-60

9 Recognition of flaws/Failures
Juxtaposition: Lines 49-51: “ …I was nineteen. It was the pre-relief, pre-WPA world of depression…..when she say me she would break into a clogged weeping that could not be comforted,…” Lines 52-54: “ She is so lovely….She will find her way.” Creates an effect of surprise of how the mother can talk about the negative of being a single mother and have the tone of defeat, but then her attitude shifts to the overwhelming joy and love for her daughter. Rhetorical Question: Line 33: “ Why do I put that first?” Draws the attention to the point where the mother reflects on her downfalls of life

10 Defeated Attitude Cacophonous Diction
Lines 30-31: “ Through her cries battered me to trembling and my breast ached with swollenness..” The harsh tone. Her defeat of being a good mother Euphonious Diction: Lines 35-37: “ She was beautiful baby. She blew shining bubbles of sound. She loved motion…” The diction and tone of the mother shifted from a defeated attitude to the joy and love she had for her daughter. Understatement: Lines 58-59: “ …in a couple of years when we’ll all be atom-dead they won’t matter a bit.” The daughter’s attitude of life being something much less than it really is. Life being hopeless.

11 Love for Daughter The Mother’s Point of View :
Lines 42-43: “ …. and for Emily’s father,….” The fact that the mother uses the daughter’s name once to acknowledge Emily’s father, establishes that Emily is more than a name. In the mother’s eyes the daughter is someone that cannot be adequately described. Highlights the bond of their relationship that no one can understand. (mother & daughter connection)

12 Lines 61-88

13 Recognition of Flaws/Failures
Shifts from first person point of view to third person Shows the limitations her life placed upon her, and how that affected her daughter “I will” or “I had to” (65-67)  “she was” (70-73) “I was” (75-76)  “she has” or “she is” or “help her to know” (81-86)

14 Defeated Attitude Parallelism Parallels mother’s helplessness and exhaustion with her sense of defeat “I will never” (65), “I was” (75) “She was” (66-67), (70-73) Serve 2 purposes b/c her recognition is also her source of defeat Cacophonous diction Harsher words to provoke heavier emotions to demonstrate effect of harsh circumstances on the mother’s attitude “all that compounds a human being is so heavy and meaningful in me, I cannot endure it tonight” A child of “depression, of war, of fear” Harsh words=reflects negative/downhearted attitude

15 Love for Daughter Metaphor Polysyndeton
“could not afford for her the soil of easy growth…there were the other children pushing up” (74-76) Planting: want to grow/cultivate something. Willing to care for/work. Other children “pushing up”: distinguishes her from others because she’s not pushing up like others “she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron” (87- 88) Ironing: want to fix creases (flaws) She’s more than just a bunch of flaws Polysyndeton “She was dark and thin and foreign-looking in a world where prestige went to blondeness and curly hair and dimples” (70-72) Places an emphasis on each idea Magnifies what the mother thought of her vs what society thinks

16 Connection Mother to Son - Langston Hughes Well, son, I'll tell you: Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. It's had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor -- Bare. But all the time I'se been a-climbin' on, And reachin' landin's, And turnin' corners, And sometimes goin' in the dark Where there ain't been no light… I'se still climbin', And life for me ain't been no crystal stair. Hester Prynne and her love for Pearl, despite Pearl being the symbol of her sin and shame, and the cause of her alienation from the rest of her community

17 Summary Because the mother is characterized as recognizing her past flaws and failures, her attitude toward her daughter is one of defeated love Recognition of flaws/failures Metaphor of the iron Juxtaposition: negative of single mother vs joy and love for daughter First person to third person showed limitations vs affect on her daughter Defeated attitude Rhetorical questions show discouraged thought process Cacophonous vs euphonious diction to show defeat vs satisfaction/admiration Parallel structure relates mother’s exhaustion and helplessness with defeat Love for daughter Tone shift highlights love for daughter Point of view distinguishes mother’s idea of daughter from everyone else’s Metaphor of the iron ties back into beginning and allows it to end with a positive note

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