Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich
Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a
Bright topaz denizens of a world of
They do not fear the men beneath the
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
(This stanza highlights Aunt Jennifer’s
{Footnotes: ordeals: testing experiences
Chivalric : Honourable and
Adrienne Rich (1929) was born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Her claim to fame were her feminist ideas and her wide
involvement in contemporary women’s movement as a poet
and theorist.
She received a number of awards including 1996 Tanning
Award for Mastery in the Art of Poetry, the Lennon
foundation’s 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award, The
Commonwealth Award in Literature and National Book Award
Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through
her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
(FOOTNOTES: fluttering:moving about
in an aimless manner)
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
(FOOTNOTES: ordeals:severe or testing
Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers", depicts a woman trapped
within the cultural constraints and responsibilities of married life.
In the first stanza, Aunt Jennifer’s situation and character is contrasted
with her artistic creation that portrays her aspiration. The tapestry on
which she has knitted tigers are very symbolic of what she wants to be in
life - fearless, assertive, noble and powerful like the tiger as expressed in
the words "They pace in sleek chivalric certainty". The word 'certainty'
could portray the self-assuredness of the tiger or the confident bearing
of the tiger as it is fearless of life. The tigers depicted as prancing across
the screen bring to mind a being that is confident, self-assured and
happy; all things that Aunt Jennifer is not. The use of colours implies that
Aunt Jennifer's tigers and their land are more vital and enjoy a sense of
freedom far greater than her. Yellow (bright topaz) connotes the sun and
fierce energy, while green reminds one of spring and rebirth.
In the second stanza, Aunt Jennifer's present state is depicted. Her fingers are
"fluttering through her wool" showing both physical and mental weakness. She
finds it difficult to pull the needle. "The massive weight of Uncle's wedding
band / Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand" reminds us that her marriage
responsibilities weigh her down which makes her unable to realize her full
potential as a woman in a male-dominated society. She escapes from her
difficult situation through art i.e. through knitting.
The final stanza contains imagery that reflects back on
the first two stanzas. The reference of the hands
symbolizes Aunt Jennifer as a whole. Though her death
would free her from her present miserable state, her
hands will remain terrified with the wedding ring which
binds her to her ordeals that took complete control of
her. The only sign of her freedom from her present life
is the art work which she escapes into by depicting the
prancing, proud and unafraid tigers which is what she
really wants to be and which she attains through her
•(1)‘Tiger’…has been used as a symbol of the terror and oppression perpetrated on
women like Aunt Jennifer by the male world.
•It also symbolises the freedom of spirit which Aunt Jennifer dreams of but is never
able to achieve.
•(2)‘Fluttering wool’..highlights the extensive oppression of the women. Aunt
Jennifer is so victimized and oppressed that her frail fingers are not able to carry
the weight of something as light as wool.
•Her struggling with the ivory needles tells us of the loss of her individuality under
the weight of Uncle’s domination and her terrorizes state of mind.
•(3)‘Uncle’s wedding band’..symbolises the suppression of women in matrimony. It
also symbolises so called male authority and dominance.
•(4)‘Ringed with ordeals ‘ expresses the struggle of the spirit,injustice and
oppression that Aunt Jennifer suffers but never expresses.
The poem is a feminist poem and revolves
around the theme of male chauvinism and
gender conflicts.
• It also highlights the theme of victmisation of
the women by their male counterparts.
• Aunt Jennifer is victimised and suffers the
oppression of her male counterpart even
though he is absent.