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I Stand Here Ironing

Tillie Olsen

Interior Monologue

Structure and Point of View

Historical Context

Olsen has the narrator tell her story through an interior monologue, which is an aspect of stream-of-consciousness narration that focuses solely on one character’s thoughts, feelings, and associations. An interior monologue is a device that writers use to reveal essential problems faced by a narrator. It may be addressed to an imagined audience or to oneself. In this story, the narrator addresses her monologue to the unidentified party who has expressed concern about Emily, and the monologue is emblematic of her passive response to a situation that actually requires action. Rather than engage with Emily’s teacher or counselor and work toward finding a way to help, the narrator describes problems, causes, and thoughts—but only to herself. The interior monologue is private and unspoken, and she means it as a response, but in reality it is no response at all. Just as an imagined response is inadequate, the narrator’s passive hope that Emily will be okay is inadequate as well. And because the interior monologue admits no voices but the narrator’s, we get the sense that, because the narrator has chosen to stay uninvolved, Emily will be left entirely on her own.

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