Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Summary and Analysis by Adrienne Rich: 2022

Adrienne Rich- Adrienne Cecile Rich was an American poet, essayist and feminist. Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”. She was famous for poems which reflected women. Her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, was selected by renowned poet W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.

Setting of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers-

The speaker talks to the readers in an anxious state. The speaker tells us the story of her aunt who has been sewing the tigers on the screen and has been in a burdened marriage, where the aunt is not open and comfortable enough to withstand the apparent harsh uncle. The poem has been shown as an irony between aunt’s personal life and her choice of object for embroidery. The tigers in her hands are a symbol of courage, boldness and independence whereas she is a fearful, weak woman and her life with her husband is disturbed to the levels that even the wedding ring seems a weight. Her vivid imagination showing all the chains holding her back has been beautifully expressed.

Poetic Devices in Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers-

Alliteration: “Finger’s fluttering”, “prancing proud”, “chivalric certainty”, “weight of wedding band”.
Visual Imagery: “Bright topaz denizens”, “world of greens”.
Wedding band – The wedding band is a symbol of marriage. Its weight refers to the burden of unsuccessful marriage and gender expectations. Ringed means encircled or trapped, which has no opening, i.e. no way to get out of it.
Aunt Jennifer – The Aunt is a typical victim of male oppression in an unhappy marriage who suffers loss of individuality, dignity and personal freedom silently. She becomes dependent, fearful and frail.
Tigers – Tigers are a symbol of untamed free courageous spirit. They show a contrast to their creator’s personality. 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. They pace and prance freely and are not afraid of men. The colours in their description are: Yellow (bright topaz) depicts the sun and its energy; Green reminds one of spring and vitality.
Embroidery – It is a symbol of her creative passion and vivid imagination. The artwork expresses the Aunt’s suppressed desires. She finds a door for an escape from the oppressive reality of her married life.
Metaphor- Ringed with ordeals: even death would not free her as the wedding band, a symbol of dominance would be on her finger and she will die with her shoulders bowed down; Terrified fingers: transferred epithet
The rhyme scheme of the poem is ‘rhymed couplets”. Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers is written in three stanzas of four lines each. Each stanza is made up of two couplets with rhymes.

Summary of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers-

The poem titled “Aunt Jenifer’s Tigers” written by Adrienne Rich is about an old lady who is embroidering a scenery of tigers. The tigers in the poem symbolise strength, vividness and courage. On the contrary, the aunt is shown weighed down and oppressed by her marriage; so much so that even the wedding band on her ring finger feels like a trap. The tigers are the aunt’s image of life. She silently wishes to be free and independent and that is what her work reflects. The aunt will die trapped in an unhappy relation while her tigers will still prance on the walls of her heart.

Theme of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers-

The poem is basically themed to show how the females are oppressed by their husbands and how they deal with that the whole of their lives without heaving a sigh of relief. The only place where they can open their windows of freedom is through their hobbies which in this poem is shown as embroidering. The aunt chooses tigers as her object as they easily represent her feelings and the kind of life she wishes to live in. It is also shown that the problem in her marriage remains unsolved and that the condition will stay the same till her death.

Central Idea of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers-

Rich’s poems were usually based on the political and gender based issues which showed the picture of how the world deals with females and how they wish to be dealt with. Aunt Jenifer struggled for freedom and equality in her marriage but could never win. She still remained true and loyal to the bond as even after such burden she wore the ring in her hands. While she made the tigers fearlessly prance on the screen which will still remain strong even after her death, she could not gather the same courage to make her life better. The idea of the poem is to let the readers know the kind of stress a woman has to go through in her lives and how she has to fight for her rights all the time. It also tells woman to be strong in this male dominated world like the tigers and not a victim.
Conclusion- The poem concludes by the lines, “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” which means that the speaker wants to convey that the burden of the marriage will always be on the shoulders of Aunt Jennifer and even after her death, she will be wearing the wedding ring which symbolises the trap. Whereas, the tigers will always remain immortal and be bold, and live with full freedom in their natural green homes on the screen.

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