Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

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.

Aunt Jennifer’s finger 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.

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.

Summary

Aunt Jennifer is creating animals that are so different from her own character. She is perhaps working on a panel or a strip of woolen cloth. With an ivory needle, she is making the figure of tigers, moving freely in the forest. They have bright yellow coat with stripes. They are fearless of the men standing under a tree. They are proud of their freedom and physical strength.

Aunt Jennifer is weak, therefore, her feeble fingers fail to pull even a light needle. She is creating mighty tigers on a panel but her own married life has been an utter failure. Uncle has, perhaps, been much too severe and insensitive to her feelings. The tiger symbolizes what she has missed in her married life.

Someday, Aunt Jennifer will quit this world. She would be lowered into the grave. Her weak and terrified hand will still have the circular ‘marks’ of her suffering. She will remain a slave in her grave. The tigers, however, created by her will go on playing merrily forever, proud and fearless.

Analysis

‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ addresses the constraints of married life that a woman experiences. They highlight the patriarchal attitude of the society. Aunt Jennifer too is the victim of such society. She has an unhappy married life as she is dominated by her husband. She embroiders jumping tigers on a panel to give vent to her pent up emotions. The tigers are golden in color. They are not afraid of the men sitting under the tree as they themselves are a symbol of bravery, courage and fearlessness. They are shown to be moving about with great confidence which Aunt Jennifer herself lacks.

She is so terrified of her husband that her fingers tremble when she pulls out the needle through wool which is very light. It symbolizes her physical as well as emotional weakness. The wedding ring which she is wearing seems heavy to her as she finds it difficult to go ahead as her married life has taken away her freedom from her.

Aunt Jennifer is so dominated that even death would not be able to free her from the terror of her husband. Her hands would still be ringed y the ordeals of her married life. On the other hand, the tigers which she has embroidered will keep on prancing showing the contrast between art and human beings. It tells us that art is immortal and always survives death.


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