The iron that the narrator holds throughout the story symbolizes both the power and the limitations of domestic life. Emily jokes at one point in the story that a portrait of the narrator would show her ironing, indicating that the act of standing still and maintaining a household is a defining, even imprisoning state for the narrator. The iron, serving as it does to smooth away wrinkles, also indicates that domestic work is a way for the narrator to control the messy world around her and improve its appearance. However, its weight and its repetitive motion also signify the monotonous, crushing nature of the narrator’s responsibilities to her home and children — she not only can iron away the wrinkles, she must do so as part of her duties as a wife and mother. The narrator irons throughout the story and refers to having done so for much of Emily’s childhood, but she concludes with the hope that Emily may someday “know that she is more than this dress on the ironing board,” demonstrating the narrator’s hope, and perhaps belief, that Emily’s future may be comparatively free of the burden of domesticity that has shaped the narrator’s life.
The Iron Quotes in I Stand Here Ironing
I think of our others in their three-, four-year-oldness—the explosions, the tempers, the denunciations, the demands—and I feel suddenly ill. I put the iron down. What in me demanded that goodness in her? And what was the cost, the cost to her of such goodness?