Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich
Who is Aunt Jennifer? Does she even exist? I had to ask myself these questions before even going further into the poem. The answers opened the door to a deeper meaning behind Aunt Jennifer's Tigers. Based on Adrienne Rich's background I believe Aunt Jennifer did exist. However, Aunt Jennifer was not Rich's aunt. Aunt Jennifer represented women all over the world, particularly women in American, who were caught under the oppressive hand of a patriarchal society. Adrienne Rich was perhaps one of those women. Rich, one of the most influential poets of her time, dealt with controversial issues such as sexuality, race, language, power, and women's culture. Her passion in this area forced her to look and challenge the standard and the norm. The popular cliché that refers to marriage as that old "ball and chain" takes on a more serious meaning with Rich as she reveals, through the simple lines of Aunt Jennifer's Tigers, a woman's struggles with expression, rebellion, and a society where power is defined as masculine.
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 fingers fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sit's heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
When Aunt Jennifer 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.
Rich begins her poem with a beautiful picture, setting the scene for the dream world of Aunt Jennifer. Immediately you see that Aunt Jennifer has ownership over the tigers in some way. That ownership is not clearly defined, however, until the second stanza of the poem when it is revealed why they are hers to own. From the first few lines we know some key facts about the tigers that Jennifer owns. Her tigers have energy. They are free to "prance" and run across the screen. The environment that the tigers enjoy is explained in detail in the line following. The tigers are bright like "topaz" and they inhabit a world that is green.
As Rich continues she begins to go deeper into the real meaning behind the creation of Aunt Jennifer's tigers. Aunt Jennifer's tigers do not fear men. They conduct themselves in a heroic, manly fashion as line 4 explains. The tigers that Aunt Jennifer's owns are confident and certain of who they are and what they want.
Only after understanding the tigers can you actually begin to understand Aunt Jennifer and again her ownership of them. The first stanza serves to explain what the tigers represent, while the second stanza explains who Aunt Jennifer is. Aunt Jennifer is described to be working with a piece of wool. She is obviously doing needlepoint to a panel that will be...