The story, I Stand Here Ironing, contains binary oppositions which work together to support the structure of the text. I listed several of these oppositions in my notes, but I am only going to discuss a few that I found were connected to each other throughout the story. These oppositions are: the past vs. the present, a healthy Emily vs. an un-healthy Emily, Emily with an appetite vs. Emily without an appetite, and a loving parent vs. a non-loving parent. These oppositions alone do not make the story interesting, however. It is how these oppositions are arranged and tied together that makes the story work. From the beginning of the story the mother was ironing and thinking about what she could do to help her daughter Emily. Her thoughts had a negative connotation, she remembered when Emily was sick, when she was left home alone because her mother had to work, and when Emily was abandoned by her mother and sent to a convalescent home. Emily?s mother also recalled her appearance at one time in Emily?s life when she looked, ?thin, dark, and foreign looking.? These thoughts of Emily?s childhood are being generated by her mother?s attempt to deal with how she brought up her child. The ironing is symbolic for Emily?s past her mother is literally ironing out the wrinkles of the past.
Throughout the story the narrator jumps from the present to the past and back to the present again. She does this several times, what she is doing is having flashbacks of when her daughter Emily, was a child. The opposition here is the present vs. the past. The activities the mother was engaged in, whether it was ironing a dress or taking care of her son Ronnie seemed to trigger these flashbacks. The flashbacks were related to Emily whatever the mother is doing somehow she flashes back to a time in Emily?s life.
The ironing that the narrator is doing during the story symbolizes Emily?s past. Wen Emily was younger her health fluctuated, at one time she got sick with chicken pox another time she had the measels. As a result of her being sick and feeling unloved by her mother Emily?s appetite diminished. The opposition then is a healthy Emily vs. an unhealthy Emily. The purpose of ironing is to smooth out the wrinkles in clothes, which makes the clothes better looking. We are told in the last line of the story that Emily is more than just the dress her mother is ironing when the narrator says, ? Let her be. So all that is in her wil not bloom-but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to know-help make it so there is cause for her to know-that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron.? Early in Emily?s childhood Emily is sick with the chicken pox, she?s sent away to her fathers family, she?s left home alone, and she is again sent away to a convalescent home. All of these tribulations are the wrinkles in Emily?s life. As the story goes on Emily?s mother irons out the wrinkles in Emily?s dress, in the present, while we learn that Emily?s life begins to improve in the past. She goes to college; she?s awarded first prize in the amature talent show, and her appetite returns. Which brings me to my next point, Emily?s diminished appetite.
Another pattern I noticed about Emily was her appetite throughout the story. There?s a line in the story that explains how she hardly ate at all, ?I used to try to hold and love her after she came back, but her body would stay stiff and after a while she?d push away. She ate little. Food sickened her and I think much of life too.? Emily wouldn?t eat whenever she was sick or mad at her mother. Towards the end of the story, however, this opposition is challenged. In the line, ?there was so little time left at night after the kids were bedded down. She would struggle over books, always eating (it was in those years she developed her enormous appetite that is legendary in our family?? It?s apparent that Emily became physically healthier in her later years. I say physically healthier because I think mentally she was traumatized as a child due to the lack of attention her mother could give her. Remember Emily?s mother was very busy working to support her family and struggling to take care of four other children besides Emily.
This lack of her mother?s attention gave Emily the opinion of her mother that she was unloving. The opposition is a loving parent vs. an unloving parent. Emily?s mother loved her dearly, but could not always be there for her. Emily was left home alone very frequently througout her childhood. When Emily was sick she?d cry for her mother and her mother, wanting to come to Emily?s aid, could not go into her room for fear of getting sick and risk getting the new baby sick. On several occasions Emily was left alone, as a single parent however, Emily?s mother had to work many hours. It?s not the life she?d prefer I?m sure, but in order to take care of her daughter and other children she had to work and, ?bring home the bacon.? The opposition here is that the mother knows she is doing the best she can and wants to be a good loving parent, but she couldn?t spend a lot of time with her children. The lack of time spent with her daughter Emily had an impact on how Emily percieved her mother. The mother tried very hard to be a loving parent, but Emily did not see it that way. And in the eyes of Emily, her mother appeared not to care for her daughter.
Looking at the binary oppositions of the text in the story allowed me to understand the story better than if I took a different approach to the story. By seeing the connections between the certain oppositions I was free from trying to explain what the author?s intentions for this piece were. And was able to focus completely on the text itself. The structuralist approach is an excellent way of looking at writings. I decided on which oppositions to include in my paper when I noticed how certain ones were related to each other. This helped me to organize a flow in my paper that I usually have trouble with.