I Stand Here Ironing

by: Tillie Olsen

Emily

Characters Emily

Emily is the central character of “I Stand Here Ironing,” the subject of a fractured portrait that emerges from the narrator’s memories of the past. Emily seems to be a forgotten child, a muted presence in the family. However, through the narrator’s obsessive focus on Emily’s development and current, unspecified predicament, a complex portrayal of a vibrant presence comes into focus. Even though the narrator dwells on the details of Emily’s gloomy and sickly nature, lack of popularity, and low self-esteem, she ultimately describes a sensitive, thoughtful, and selfless individual who has survived simply because she must. Emily has a grim, cheerless demeanor as well as an incongruous gift for comedy and performance. In a way, her acting ability serves as a dour comment on her conditions growing up. Her penchant for mimicry and bringing characters vividly to life reflects Emily’s desire to become someone else, transcend her present reality, and escape the squalor, lack of attention, and compromised conditions that have marked her life so far.