‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olsen

The first and last lines of this story are always like a punch to the gut. In fact, I think the first line here is the greatest first line of a short story I have ever read, or in the top five at least: “I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.” A mother recounts the life of her now (almost) adult eldest daughter and in the telling, Olsen paints the picture of an era, of single motherhood and all the attendant guilt, poverty and, of sibling dynamics. It’s incredibly moving, and a masterclass in how to write monologues.

First published in Tell Me a Riddle, Dell, 1961/Virago 1980

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s