Love and Acceptance
Tillie Olsen s I Stand Here Ironing, and Alice Walker s Everyday Use, both address the issue of a mother s guilt over how her children turn out. Both mothers blamed themselves for their daughter s problems. While I Stand Here Ironing is obviously about the mousy daughter, in Everyday Use this is camouflaged by the fact most of the action and dialog involves the mother and older sister Dee. Neither does the mother in Everyday Use say outright that she feels guilty, but we catch a glimpse of it when Dee is trying very hard to claim the handmade quilts. The mother says she did something she had never done before, “hugged Maggie to me,” then took the quilts from Dee and gave them to Maggie. In I Stand Here Ironing the mother tells us she feels guilty for the way her daughter Emily is, for the things she (the mother) did and did not do. The mother s neighbor even tells her she should “smile at Emily more when you look at her.” Again towards the end of the story Emily s mother admits “my wisdom came too late.” The mothers unknowingly gave Emily and Maggie second best.
Both mothers compare their two daughters to each other. In Everyday Use the mother tells us that “Dee is lighter than Maggie, with nicer hair and a fuller figure.” She Fahning -2-speaks of the fire that burned and scarred Maggie. She tells us how Maggie is not bright, how she shuffles when she walks. Comparing her with Dee whose feet vwere always neat-looking, as if God himself had shaped them.” We also learn of Dee s “style” and the way she awes the other girls at school with it.
The mother in I Stand Here Ironing speaks of Susan, “quick and articulate and assured, everything in appearance and manner Emily was not.” Emily “thin and dark and foreign-looking at a time when every little girl was supposed to look or thought she should look a chubby blonde replica of Shirley Temple.” Like Dee, Emily had a physical limitation also. Hers was asthma.
Both Emily and Maggie show resentment towards their sisters. The sisters who God rewarded with good looks and poise. Emily s mother points out the “poisonous feeling” between the sisters, feelings she contributed to by her inability to balance the “hurts and needs” of the two. In Everyday Use we see Maggie “eying her sister with a mixture of envy and awe. She thinks her sister has held life always in the palm of one hand, that “no” is a word the world would never say to her.” Maggie s mother seems to have reinforced this by being unable to say no to Dee also. This is what makes the point in the story when she finally does say no (regarding the quilts) such an important moment in Maggie s life.
The attitude of the mothers towards the polished daughters borders on contempt. I believe this is more evident in Everyday Use, demonstrated by the dream of the TV show. Also the description of Dee reading to them, “burned us with a lot of knowledge we Fahning -3-didn t necessarily need to know,” and again when she shoved “us away…like dimwits.” It s also pointed out that Dee and Susan are self-centered and selfish while Maggie and Emily are caring and giving.
I think in the end both of the mothers realize their daughters are okay the way they are. They come to accept their daughters limitations and cherish their quiet gifts. Not everyone can be polished and successful in worldly ways. Maybe that s why Maggie was smiling in the end, her mother finally accepted her as is.