Compare and Contrast Essay: Confrontation of Expectations in Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing and Amy Tan’s Two Kinds

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The pressure to obey expectations of familial roles provokes a conflicting sense of self among both youthful protagonists. Within Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”, the clarity of Emily’s self-image is greatly hindered by her expectation to conform to her mother’s forced parental responsibilities. As Emily’s mother describes her daughter’s compelled role to housekeep, shop and make lunches, she further insinuates Emily’s internal conflict when she states, “she had to help me be a mother […] she was lost, she was a drop; suffering over the unpreparedness, stammering and unsure in her abilities” (Olsen 296). It is evident that Emily’s forced compliance to her mother’s expectations contributes to the dismantlement of her sense of self, as she is obliged to adopt her mother’s temperament and abandon the identity she once scarcely possessed. Likewise, as Emily begins to embrace her expected familial role, she develops emotions of uneasiness and overwhelming confusion, which stimulate the opposition of her individual and maternal identities.

Within Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”, Jing-mei’s sense of self is challenged by her mother’s expectations of possessing an obedient daughter rather than a self-governing child. Jing-mei’s conflicting sense of self is exemplified at its culmination when she exclaims to her mother, “I wish I wasn’t your daughter, I wish you weren’t my mother” (Tan 5). Here, Jing-mei expresses her desire to pursue her own lifestyle and unique decisions. However, after this declaration, she meekly notes that, “As [she] said these things [she] got scared” (Tan 5). At this time, Jing-mei’s conflicting sense of self is explicit, as she yearns to be her authentic self while grappling with her mother’s fated disapproval. Altogether, it is evident that the pressure to fulfill familial roles causes a conflicting sense of self and alludes to the catastrophic impact of conformity among youth.

The pressure to conform to beauty and corporal expectations incites a conflicting sense of self among young individuals. Within “I Stand Here Ironing”, Emily’s self-image is questioned by her desire to conform to her personal standard of ideal beauty. The protagonist’s afflicted sense of self is further portrayed when her mother describes Emily’s jealousy of copper-haired girls, stating that “She tormented herself enough about not looking like the others” (Olsen 296). As Emily is compelled to have a different appearance, she is conflicted between the body she desires and the body in which she is imprisoned, initiating a conflicting sense of self and perception of body image.

Next, within “Two Kinds”, Jing-mei’s sense of self is obstructed by her mother’s expectations and perceptions of feminine beauty in America. When Jing-mei’s mother attempts conform her daughter’s appearance to the apparent standards of Western culture at a beauty training school, Jing-mei’s self-confliction intensifies, noting that her mother “lamented” (Tan 1) her daughter’s somatic similarity to a “Negro Chinese” (Tan 1). Furthermore, Jing-mei’s conflicting sense of beauty reaches its pinnacle as she states that she “understood that [her reflection] would always be this ordinary face […] such a sad and ugly girl” (Tan 2). Here, Jing-mei’s conflicting sense of self is evident, as she aspires to conform to her mother’s standard of beauty while understanding her inability to do so. To conclude, it is evident that the pressure to conform to beauty expectations set by oneself and Western society has major repercussions on the wellbeing of the protagonists, and draws attention to the detrimental impact of conformity among youth.

The expectation to possess standard abilities, relationships, and appearances proves to be very significant, as it indicates the destructive power of conformity in the lives of individuals struggling to define their sense of self. Within Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing” and Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”, the conflicting sense of self experienced by Emily and Jing-mei are caused by the pressure to conform to specific standards related to talents, familial roles, and beauty. To begin, the impact of conforming to expected abilities is exemplified through Emily’s expectation to learn in school and Jing-mei’s expectation to play the piano. Next, the influence of complying with enforced familial roles is evident through Emily’s obligatory chores and Jing-mei’s role as a daughter.

Lastly, the consequences of conforming to ideal appearances are displayed through Emily and Jing-mei’s expectation to comply with the beauty standards forced upon them. It is clear that the immense pressure to conform to expectations remains significant to youth within modern Western society. To conclude, though the analysis and evident colossal impact of conformity on the identities of youth, it is vital for members of society, regardless of age, to adjust the way they compare their attitudes and beliefs with those around them in order to develop into prosperous adults with clear and authentic identities.


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