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Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Summary in English by Adrienne Rich
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Poem by Adrienne Rich About the Poet
Adrienne C. Rich (May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012) was born in Baltimore. She was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was known as “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”, and was credited with bringing “the oppression of women to the forefront of poetic discourse.” She published twenty-five volumes of poetry, three collections of essays and more than half a dozen other writings.
Rich’s prose collections are widely acclaimed for their erudite, lucid, and poetic treatment of politics, feminism, history, racism and many other topics.
|Poet Name||Adrienne Rich|
|Born||16 May 1929, Baltimore, Maryland, United States|
|Died||27 March 2012, Santa Cruz, California, United States|
|Education||Radcliffe College a women’s liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts|
|Awards||National Book Award for Poetry, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize|
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Introduction to the Poem
The poem, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ addresses the constraints of married life that a woman experiences. The protagonist of the poem, Aunt Jennifer represents women all over the world, particularly the women in America, during the 1950s. She represents the kind of women who were caught under the oppressive hand of a patriarchal society. The poet, Adrienne Rich through the simple lines of the poem, delineates a woman’s struggles with expression and rebellion. The three quatrains (four lined stanza) expose the desolating effects of patriarchy.
In the first stanza, the poet first introduces us to Aunt Jennifer’s dreams. In the second stanza, we are introduced to the reality of Aunt Jennifer’s world. The third stanza is a narrative of the future.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Theme
The poem revolves around the desires and the depressingly harsh realities of Aunt Jennifer’s existence, using sharp contrasts between the tigers and herself. The tigers appear to be in sharp contrast to her personality. The tiger’s actions are smooth, uninhibited and robust. Aunt Jennifer, on the other hand, has great trouble even to embroider because her movements are so weak. Aunt Jennifer is evidently a lonely, pained old woman plagued by anxiety. The reason for her miserable plight is the oppressive patriarchal family system, wherein the whole soul of the family is the male and it is he, who dominates the scene. She creates an alternative world of freedom—a world that she longs for.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Summary in English
In this feminist poem, which is critical of the male world, Aunt Jennifer creates an alternate world of freedom in her art. The tigers of Aunt Jennifer’s stitchings are representative of her desire of a free spirit, emphasising the fact that she pines for freedom from her burdensome husband.
The first stanza opens with Aunt Jennifer’s visual tapestry of tigers who are fearless of their environment. “Bright topaz denizens of a world of green” – evoke an image that these tigers are unafraid of other beings in the jungle. Here, ‘bright’ signifies their powerful and radiant persona. There is a sense of certainty and confidence in the way these tigers move as can be seen in the line – “They pace in sleek chivalric certainty”.
In the second stanza, the reality of Aunt Jennifer is revealed as she is feeble, weak and enslaved, very much the opposite of the tigers she was knitting. Her physical and mental trauma is depicted in the line – “find even the ivory needle hard to pull”. Even though a wedding ring doesn’t weigh much, “the massive weight of uncle’s wedding band, sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand” signifies the amount of dominance her husband has exercised over her. This also means that her inner free spirit has been jailed by the patriarchal society.
The last stanza starts on a creepy note about Aunt Jennifer’s death. Even her death wouldn’t free her from the ordeals she went through which can be seen in “When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by”. But her art work which was her escape route or in a way, her inner sense of freedom, will stay forever, proud and unafraid.
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers Summary Reference-to-Context Questions
Read the extracts given below and answer the questions that follow.
1. 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.
a. How are Aunt Jennifer’s tigers described?
They are chivalric, brave and fearless. They have self-confidence.
b. Why are they described as denizens of a world of green?
It means the tigers are in their habitat and they are known for their strength and attitude.
c. Why are they not afraid of the men?
They are not afraid of the men because they are strong, brave and fearless.
d. Mention the poetic device used in the last line.
Alliteration e.g., ‘chivalric certainty’
2. 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.
a. What does the first line of this extract tell us about Aunt Jennifer?
Aunt Jennifer feels so nervous, fearful and terrified of her male counterpart that even while weaving the tapestry, her hands shake and flutter. She is a victim of gender oppression at the hands of her husband.
b. Why is it so hard for her to pull the ivory needle?
She finds it very hard to pull a light-weight ivory needle because while she is creating her work of art, which is a creation of her desires and feelings, she feels fearful of the uncle. She finds it more hard to pull because of the mental suppression and not because of physical weakness.
c. Explain, ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’?
This expression is symbolic of male authority and power. Matrimony seems to bind the woman physically as well as mentally. The wedding band was a burden for her as she was not getting enough freedom to express herself because of the domestic responsibilities . and restrictions put on her as a woman.
d. What is suggested in the third line of the extract?
It suggests the weight of the relationship. The image is suggestive and the wedding band is symbolic of an unbreakable bond that weighs her down.
3. 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.
a. Why are Aunt Jennifer’s hands ‘terrified’?
Aunt Jennifer has been enslaved by the wedding ring. After undergoing the harsh and bitter experiences of her married life, she feels weak and shaken.
b. What is Aunt Jennifer’s death symbolic of? Is the society anyway affected by her death?
Her death is symbolic of her complete submission to the suppression. The male-dominated society seems to show no concern for Aunt Jennifer’s suffering, or even her death. The society seems in no way affected by it.
c. What does ‘ringed with ordeals’ imply?
‘Ringed with ordeals’ refers to the wedding band. Ring here symbolises handcuff which enslaves her all her life and makes her a frightened and scared soul.
d. How will the tigers behave after her death?
The tigers will go on prancing proud and unafraid.