In Tillie Olsen's I Stand Here Ironing, Emily is the narrator's character of focus. The narrator is clearly her mother who has been left by Emily's father when Emily was less than one year old. Emily was born a beautiful baby during the Great Depression. The coming years will seem to take their toll on both Emily and her mother, who has to leave her daughter in unfortunate situations, so that she may find work. Throughout her childhood, Emily is sickly in appearance and seems a very depressed individual. What little food is available to eat is unappealing to Emily, so she seems to find comfort and solitude in what now days may be referred to as an eating disorder. Emily is shuffled from other family members to a home for children and even forced to stay alone by herself at a very young age. Emily remains to be a constant scab on her mother's shoulder, always occupying her thoughts and worries. An unfortunate product of her environment, Emily is held captive by the chains of the Great Depression. .
Several years pass and her mother remarries and becomes pregnant again with her second child. Emily is now back in the home, too. Still sickly in appearance, her mother constantly worries about her well being, and what she hasn"t been able to do for her. Emily is seldom happy and wishes to not go to school as much as she can get away with it. She is referred to as " a slow learner", and does not seem to fit in in the outside world at all. .
As Emily's childhood years go by, she develops into a young teenager, and devolves an appetite, too! As she comes of age, a glimmer of hope appears in the form of an amateur contest at her school. Through her creative ability to act out things she sees around her, she enters the contest. The audience at the amateur contest is amazed at her abilities and she wins first place. It is the dawn of a new beginning for her.
It may seem to the reader that after years of being a nobody, Emily suddenly finds her niche.