Essay #1: Fiction Analysis Question # 1: Love and

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Essay #1: Fiction Analysis Question # 1: Love and

AcceptanceTillie 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.