Friday 24 November 2023

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

                         By Adrienne Rich 


Analysis of the poem: 

§  The poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ is composed by Adrienne Rich, a well known new age American poet. Her works are known for original themes, revolutionary thoughts and strong voice for women empowerment.

§  Adrienne Rich, an American poetess, is widely known for her involvement in contemporary women’s movement as a poet and theorist.

§  The poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ addresses the constraints of married life a woman experiences, gender bias and immense power of art.

§  The poem is subjective in nature as it describes the emotions and opinion of the poet associated with her experience in this male dominated society.

§  The poem is simple in language, lyrical in style and profound in emotional content with the wonderful handling of poetic devices and expressions.

§  The poem is divided in three stanzas of four lines each, having the rhyming scheme –  aabb.

§  The tone of the poem is melancholic as aunt Jennifer feels sad thinking about her unexpressed desires and limitations of a married woman.

§  The poet clearly brings out the theme that marital bond and responsibilities become a burden on a woman who is unable to express her desires. It also brings out a contrast between the art which is mode of expression and the life which needs submission.

§  The impactful description for tigers in the greenery successfully depicts the theme that art is so powerful to express itself while a married woman fails to express her desires, through powerful imagery, metaphor and skilful handling of other poetic devices.


Summary / Synopsis

The poem deals with the themes of gender bias, marital expectations, immense power of art, helplessness of a married woman and social prejudices associated with marriage. 

Aunt Jennifer's tigers represent her desire for freedom and strength, contrasting with the challenges she faces in her married life. The art she creates becomes a symbol of her inner strength and a way to express herself despite the constraints of her reality. 

Ironically, she would die under the same burden and fear while the tigers she was making would prance proudly and fearlessly unlike the terrified aunt Jennifer.

 Video on A Thing of Beauty

Line by Line Explanation

"Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty."

The poet introduces Aunt Jennifer's design on a tapestry or a piece of cloth featuring tigers that seem lively and full of fearless movement. The tigers are compared to a bright topaz, yellow gem stone, indicating their vibrant and intense nature. The phrase "denizens of a world of green" suggests that the tigers inhabit a lush green and lively environment. The tigers, depicted in Aunt Jennifer's creation, show no fear of the men who are under the tree. This embroidery symbolises a sense of independence or strength Aunt Jennifer dreams of. The tigers move with a confident walk, boldness, courage and assurance. This portrays a sense of regal and fearless life which is in sharp contrast of scared and fearful demeanour of aunt Jennifer.


"Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand."

Aunt Jennifer is working on her embroidery, her fingers are moving weakly through the thread as she creates the tapestry. Aunt Jennifer has become weak and lost strength after facing challenges in her married life. Even the ivory needle is difficult for her to pull through the fabric. This suggests the physical and emotional strain she has experienced through her married life. Aunt Jennifer is wearing her husband's wedding ring which has "massive" weight for her fingers. It suggests that the ring is not just an ornament but carries a significant emotional burden of responsibilities and liabilities of demanding married life. The weight of the wedding ring is burdensome for Aunt Jennifer, symbolising the constraints of marriage and the traditional roles and expectations associated with it. She is described to be crushed and helpless under this weight and unable to express herself. Probably that's the reason she is trying to express her desire for freedom and expression through her embroidery of fearless tigers.


"When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid."

The poet envisions Aunt Jennifer's death when her "terrified hands" will lie motionless and still terrified. It suggests a sense of fear or anxiety that would persist even in death. Even after Aunt Jennifer's death, her hands will bear the impact of the painful experiences and difficult challenges or "ordeals" that she was subjected to. She has been dominated by her husband or family in her married life that she would carry this fearful experience to her grave. The wedding band would remain there in her hand even after her death and so would its burden. The irony of life is described through the tapestry or panel that Aunt Jennifer created with the tigers. Ironically, the tigers created by aunt Jennifer will continue to prance with pride and fearlessness, suggesting a stark contrast between her art and her real life. Aunt would go to the grave with her fear and the tiger will go on showing their power and pride.

Video on Aunt Jennifer's Tigers


The poem brings out the theme that marriage ordeals many a time become a massive burden on a woman and she feels suffocated and unable to express herself. The poem also brings out a contrast between art and human life. Art is a mode of expression and our life is a tale of submission and subjugation.

Video on Keeping Quiet

Poetic Devices

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen – Imagery, Consonance, Symbolism

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green – Metaphor, Imagery, Repetition

They do not fear the men beneath the tree – Anaphora, Alliteration, Repetition

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty – Anaphora, Assonance. Imagery

Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool – Imagery, Alliteration, Consonance

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull - Consonance, Symbolism

The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band – Alliteration, Metaphor, Symbolism  

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand – Personification, Alliteration

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie – Consonance, Alliteration, Synecdoche 

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by – Assonance, Metaphor

The tigers in the panel that she made – Repetition, Imagery, Alliteration, Repetition

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid – Assonance, Alliteration, Personification, Irony 

Video on My Mother at Sixty Six

Important Question Answers

Q. Why are Aunt Jennifer’s hands ‘fluttering through the wool’? What is suggested by ‘massive weight of uncle’s wedding hand’? Why is the needle so ‘hard to pull’ for aunt Jennifer?

Ans. The poet highlights the victimisation of Aunt Jennifer in his poem. Aunt Jennifer is so terrified of her husband that her fingers tremble when she pulls out the ivory needle through wool even though the needle is very light. It depicts her physical as well as emotional weakness. The wedding ring which she is wearing symbolises responsibilities that are a great burden on her soul. The wedding ring given by the uncle seems heavy to her. She finds it difficult to go ahead as her married life has taken away all her freedom from her.

Video on Roadside Stand

No comments:

Post a Comment