I Stand Here Ironing

by

Tillie Olsen

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Clocks Symbol Icon

Clocks and the associated concept of time represent another aspect of the social rules that binds both the narrator and Emily. The narrator frequently makes parenting choices based on societal ideas of when certain milestones should occur, even when she herself does not believe in these choices. That oppression by time becomes more extreme in Emily’s childhood, when Emily is frightened of clocks and the changes that she associates with the passage of time. In both cases, the external force of time as represented by the clock restrains the characters in painful ways. In this way, the clock and its effects act as a microcosm of the broader, equally damaging pressures that social norms exert in this story.

Clocks Quotes in I Stand Here Ironing

The I Stand Here Ironing quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clocks. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty, Labor, and Domestic Life Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Nebraska edition of I Stand Here Ironing published in 2013.
I Stand Here Ironing Quotes

I nursed her. They feel that’s important nowadays. I nursed all the children, but with her, with all the fierce rigidity of first motherhood, I did like the books then said. Though her cries battered me to trembling and my breasts ached with swollenness, I waited till the clock decreed.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Emily
Related Symbols: Clocks
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

“It wasn’t just a little while. I didn’t cry. Three times I called you, just three times, and then I ran downstairs to open the door so you could come faster. The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked.”

Related Characters: Emily (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: Clocks
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Clocks Symbol Timeline in I Stand Here Ironing

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clocks appears in I Stand Here Ironing. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
I Stand Here Ironing
Poverty, Labor, and Domestic Life Theme Icon
Female Identity Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Self-Expression Theme Icon
Responsibility and Guilt Theme Icon
...for Emily with “fierce rigidity,” doing just as “the books” said and waiting “’till the clock decreed” to nurse Emily, despite that Emily’s cries “battered” the narrator and her breasts “ached.”... (full context)
Time Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Self-Expression Theme Icon
Responsibility and Guilt Theme Icon
...her alone some nights, which she didn’t like. Once, they came home to find the clock on the floor and Emily terrified. “The clock talked loud,” she said. “I threw it... (full context)
Time Theme Icon
Obedience vs. Self-Expression Theme Icon
Responsibility and Guilt Theme Icon
The clock “talked loud again” the night the narrator gave birth to Emily’s sister Susan. Emily became... (full context)