About the Poet
Adrienne Rich was a poet, essayist and radical feminist from America. She was known as one of the most influential poets of the second half of the 20th century. She actively participated in the contemporary women’s movement as a poet and theorist. She expressed strong resistance to racism and militarism through her work.
In the poem, Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger, the poet addresses the issue of male dominance. The theme of the poem is to highlight the struggles and conflicts a woman faces in male chauvinistic society. Aunt Jennifer is the protagonist of the poem and she exemplifies women all over the world who are victims of persecution at the hands of the patriarchal system. The poet expresses her feminist concerns through this poem.
The protagonist, Aunt Jennifer is embroidering Tigers on a piece of cloth with wool and needles, which are a symbol of strength, fearlessness and confidence. These tigers keep prancing and jumping with confidence and they are described as golden yellow in colour. They have been described as dwellers of a world of green because they live in dense green forests. These tigers are not scared of men who stand under the tree, as they are strong, bold and fearless. Aunt Jennifer is traumatized by the ordeals of her marital life and male-dominated society. So her hands and fingers are fluttering with fear and she was not able to pull the needle through the cloth that she was stitching. Aunt Jennifer could not bear the burden of marital responsibilities. She felt subjugated and could not express herself freely. The poem says that even if the protagonist is dead from outside, the tigers within her will help her survive.
In the first line, Aunt Jennifer’s tigers jump and move across a screen or panel. It says that Aunt Jennifer is stitching something that is not clear to the readers. She has created tigers that are jumping and moving throughout. The tigers represent her suppressed desires to become bold and fearless and free from oppression.
In the second line, the tigers are described as denizens or dwellers of dense green forest and are brightly golden coloured. The tigers reside within Aunt Jennifer. Tigers usually live on their terms and fear no one, as they regard themselves to be superior in their domain. This shows that Aunt Jennifer has a deep desire to live on her terms and conditions in the male-dominated society.
In the third line, the tigers within Aunt Jennifer are a symbol of strength as they are not afraid of men standing under the tree. These tigers are not real or living tigers. They are the images created by her on a tapestry. Aunt Jennifer, who is confined and exploited by the oppressive hand of a patriarchal society, creates in her art an alternate world of freedom.
In the fourth line, the tigers move about with grace, elegance and confidence. The tigers symbolize her dreams, her desire to be free from the traumatized life that she is living. The poet points in this stanza that women need to have these qualities to fight against their male oppressors.
In the fifth line of the second stanza, Aunt Jennifer has created beautiful images of tigers with wool but her fingers are fluttering because she is nervous and most probably she is scared of her father.
In the sixth line, she is so nervous and her fingers are shaking that she cannot even pull the ivory needle through the tapestry.
In the seventh line, the aunt is wearing her wedding ring and she finds the weight of the ring as a burden on her hand. This line indicates that she feels burdened with her marital responsibilities.
In the eighth line, the ring on her finger is heavy because it metaphorically indicates restrictions and challenges in Aunt Jennifer’s married life due to her husband’s oppression over her.
Through this stanza, the poet says that her aunt throughout her life glorifies her husband but she feels so crushed now by the dominance of her husband that the marital responsibilities become a burden on her.
In the ninth line of the third stanza, the poet says that her aunt won’t be relieved of her trauma after her death.
In the tenth line of the third stanza, the poet says that her Aunt Jennifer will always be subjugated by the burden of marital ordeals and oppressions by her husband even after her death.
In the eleventh and the last line of the third stanza, the poet says that the tigers created by Aunt Jennifer will remain eternal within her and they will always be proud and fearless, jumping and moving with elegance and grace.
Through this poem, the poet wants to convey that this poem is not only for her Aunt Jennifer but also for all women who are capable of creating these tigers. They need to bring out their courage and break the shackles and be fearless and bold like the tigers themselves. Like Aunt Jennifer, there are many women who long to be free from their miseries and dominance of patriarchal society.
Q1. Why does Aunt Jennifer create animals that are so different from her own character?
Ans. The tigers created by Aunt Jennifer are a symbol of strength, fearlessness and confidence. Aunt Jennifer lacked these qualities. These tigers represent Aunt Jennifer’s suppressed desires to become bold and fearless and free from ill-treatment. The poet wants to suggest that women need to have these qualities to fight against their male dominance.
Q2. What is the weight that lies heavy on Aunt Jennifer’s hand?
Ans. The weight that lies heavy on Aunt’s Jennifer’s hand is the weight of Uncle’s wedding band, which signifies her married life. Probably the heaviness of her married life has burdened her so much that she feels crushed.
Q3. What will happen to Aunt Jennifer’s tigers when she is dead?
Ans. The tigers created by Aunt Jennifer will keep on prancing even after her death, as she has created them on the tapestry. This means that art endures beyond human life. It also shows that Aunt Jennifer longed for freedom from male oppression and this desire remains eternal, even after she dies.
Q4. What are the symbols and poetic devices that have been employed in the poem?
Ans. The poet has used a number of images, symbols and poetic devices in the poem to convey the theme. The tigers symbolize the freedom of spirit, which Aunt Jennifer desires to attain but never achieves except in her dreams and art. Aunt Jennifer metaphorically represents all women as a group, women who are the victims of male superiority and domination.
Tigers symbolize the true nature of a woman's soul that values strength and assertion. The tigers in the tapestry are compared to the tigers that are inhabitants of the forests who are bold and fearless. The “fingers fluttering” signifies the physical feebleness of Aunt Jennifer. The “prancing proud” signifies the endless strength of the tigers.