Friday, January 13, 2023

Class XII - English Core - Flamingo -Poem 5 - Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

Poem Text

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.


The poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" was written by American poet Adrienne Rich in 1951. It appeared in her first published book of poems, A Change of World. Told from the perspective of an anonymous speaker, the poem describes a woman, Aunt Jennifer, who crafts vibrant tapestry panels (depicting tigers) to escape-mentally, at least, her unhappy marriage. Written at a time when divorce was unacceptable, the poem criticises the traditional institution of marriage, suggesting that it oppresses women.

Aunt Jennifer creates a needlepoint that shows tigers leaping across the canvas. Bright and vibrant, like topaz gems, the tigers live within the green world of the canvas. They are not afraid of the men standing underneath the tree, also depicted in the image. The tigers walk with certainty, grace and courage.

Aunt Jennifer's fingers swiftly and delicately work the yarn, yet she finds it physically difficult to pull even a small needle made of ivory through the canvas. Her husband's wedding band feels huge and weighs down heavily on her hand.

When Aunt Jennifer dies one day, her frightened hands will finally be still. Yet they will still be marked by the difficulties that ruled over her while she was alive. Meanwhile, the tigers she created will continue to leap across her needlepoint without shame or fear.


'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers' by Adrienne Rich is a multi-layered poem that uses the images of sewn tigers to talk about the institution of marriage. The poet also explored the themes like Female Role in the Home, the Female Role in Marriage, Animals as Women and Nature, Patriarchal Power, Individual Freedoms, Political Issues, Art as escapism etc.


This poem is a vigorous protest against male chauvinism and patriarchy which want to marginalize woman in every front. This poem offers a clear statement against the traditional marriage living relationship where women take the secondary role. Like Aunt Jennifer, millions of women still are a life of deprivation and subjugation. So this poem belongs to the feminist literary genre.


The title, 'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers' is appropriate as it suggests that the poem is about Aunt Jennifer's knitted tigers. With their chivalrous, ferocious, bright and carefree attitude, she creates an alternate world for herself. These tigers are the only means of free expression in her life, which is otherwise burdened by fear and struggles of married life.

Form, Style and Literary Devices

It's a formal rhyming poem, an early example of Adrienne Rich's work. Through the short lines of the poem, the speaker embodies the struggle this woman is going through and juxtaposes it against the tigers that she's creating. Their power is contrasted against her own lack of power.

In three verses, the reader is left in no doubt that Aunt Jennifer has suffered over the years and is looking for a positive way to express her artistic talents before it's too late.

The tigers she creates will outlast her and become a symbol of freedom and independence.

Structure: The poem's structure hints at the parallel existence of freedom and fear. In the first stanza, we get a description of the tigers. In the next stanza, we find a picture of Jennifer's life. In the final stanza, Jennifer's life and the tigers' fearless movements interact. The final victory of the tigers outlives the death of the woman. The first 'stanza describes artistic freedom but the second stanza narrates patriarchal power The structural similarity between the two stanzas rather highlights the binary opposition between rebellion and repression. In the final stanza, repression and rebellion are seen together. It indicates that women can revolt if only they throw away the conventions represented by the wedding ring.

Tone: The poem's voice is distant, which is created by the third-person point of view. The third-person narrator, a third-person viewpoint and the older generation have made Aunt Jennifer more authentic. The choice of diction suggests the vigour of the animals and the lifelessness of Jennifer. The words 'prance', 'pace', 'denizen', 'bright', 'proud', unafraid', 'sleek, chivalric' are associated with tigers. However, negative words like 'massive weight, sits heavily. terrified hand', ringed', and 'ordeals' highlight the weak points of Jennifer's life. Moreover, in the case of tigers, we get references to strong verbs and active voices. On the contrary, in Jennifer's case, we get passive voices suggesting the passivity of her life. 

Poetic Devices

Rhyme Scheme

'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers' is a three-stanza poem separated into stanzas of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABB, with the couplets changing end. sounds from stanza to stanza. While there is evidence of metrical patterns in 'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers,' it is not entirely consistent. There are sections of the poem in which Rich uses nearly perfect iambic pentameter and moments where she moves away from it and uses trochees instead.

It is a conventional rhyme scheme. However, Rich has brought the protest through this pattern. It seems that she has made the poem's structure conventional to highlight the conventionality of the protagonist's life and discuss about Critical appreciation of "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers".


It is quite important in this poem. It can be seen through the description of the tigers, their landscape, and Aunt Jennifer's hands.

Rich has used animal imagery to inject power and vigour into the vision of Jennifer, which she terribly misses in her personal life. Tigers are the popular symbols of power and rebellion. Rich's tigers signify the vital life force that conventional society hardly allows for women. The creator of the tigers, Jennifer, lives a life of fear, depression and submission. But her tigers are fiercely uncompromising. Here the animal imagery suggests violence and energy, which women aspire to acquire but painfully lack.


It is a simple and helpful technique There is a good example in the first stanza with the repetition of "They” at the start of lines three and four. 


It helps to create a feeling of rhythm and rhyme even if one does not exist. For example, "fluttering fingers" in stanza two and "prancing, proud" in stanza three.


Heavy wedding band: Symbolises oppression in an unhappy marriage; Tigers: Untamed free spirit. The central symbols of the poem are the tapestry tigers and the Uncle's wedding band. The tapestry tigers are not just individual artistic expressions, and they are politically inflected, engaged in patriarchal chivalry myths. The personal and the political again meet in the intimacy of Uncle's wedding band. By the physical intimacy of a wedding band and by the familial presence conferred by 'Uncle's wedding band’, Aunt Jennifer's Tigers specify the presence of patriarchal politics. The interplay between rebellion and repression has made the poem enjoyable. This poem underscores the theme of power and social status. Aunt Jennifer is assigned the role of an aunt. She has no independent identity. In the poem, her name is mentioned four times, and on every occasion, she is an aunt. This imposition has fragmented her role.


The weight of husband's wedding ring


Here a trembling and ‘mastered’ woman creates free and confident creatures in her artistic endeavours. Fluttering fingers produce something that has ‘certainty’.


This poem identifies the problems of women in society. The male-dominated society subordinates women. So they have nothing to do but continue the roles imposed on them by their male counterparts. Aunt Jennifer is the representative of these ill-fated women. Marriage as an institution does not support them. It instead ensures their eternal bondage. That's why the wedding ring is inseparable from Jennifer's life. The final stanza points to the contrast between the fearless tigers and the lifeless aunt. In fact, through this contrast, Rich is stressing the basic idea of feminism. According to feminism, women are deprived of equal status because of social strictures and repressions. The tigers are beyond these norms, but Jennifer is confined within them.


Aunt Jennifer is creating animals that are so different from her own character. She is perhaps working on a panel or a strip of woollen cloth. With an ivory needle, she is making the figure of tigers moving freely in the forest. They have bright yellow coats 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 symbolises 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 mark 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.

Stanza Wise Explanation

Stanza One

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. 

In the first stanza of Aunt Jennifer's Tigers, the speaker begins by describing the movement of the tigers across the fabric canvas. They are prancing "across a screen" in a "world of green". The perfect rhymes give this poem a sing-song-like sound juxtaposed against the darker subject matter. It creates a haunting atmosphere that allows for easy contemplation of the problems of marriage. The speaker describes very clearly how the tigers do not "fear the men beneath the tree". They move without fear or trepidation. It should be noted that this is a state that the artist, Aunt Jennifer, does not know. She is not without fear as they are.

The animals are personified. Rich uses words like "chivalric" (an older term that connects to a certain respectful yet patronising treatment of women) to describe them. They are masculine, without worry, and "certain" in their actions. This makes it seem even less likely that Jennifer will find this same strength.

Stanza Two

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.

The speaker describes in the next stanza how quickly Jennifer's fingers move. They "flutter” through the movements but are without real strength. The word "flutter" evokes the image of birds' wings and gentle movements. Her hands find the "needle hard to pull". There is something weighing them down, a "wedding band". The ring that ties her to her husband keeps her from moving beyond who she is at that moment. It sits heavily on her hand, her mind, and her soul.

Stanza Three

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. 

The third stanza begins with a striking move into the future. The speaker looks towards the time in which Jennifer is going to die. These lines are enjambed, encouraging the reader to move smoothly and quickly through the stanza. She will stop eventually, as will the movement of her hands. But the ring will still be there. Even in death, she will in some ways be tied to her "ordeals".

As she struggles, suffers, and dies, the tigers will continue to prance proudly on her page. They, unlike her, are "unafraid".


The speaker describes the tigers the aunt produced by using coloured threads on heavy cloth. They are set in motion. They are moving quickly by raising their front legs and jumping forwards on their hind legs in the green jungle. They look bright yellow and as valuable as topazes which reveals her dream of a happier life in her needlework.

There are men sitting under the tree, but the tigers do not care for them. They move on to their goal boldly and smoothly. Jennifer finds it difficult to make pictures by using the ivory needle. She is tired of doing the household work after she got married. She can't get herself involved in her artistic work. She has to do it in her leisure time. Even then she has to be sure whether her husband is watching her or not. So her hands are terrified. She will not be free from fear until she dies. She will be dominated by her husband. She will die, but her art will express her desire to move proudly and fearlessly like the tigers she has made.

Aunt Jennifer's hands are 'terrified' because of the massive weight of household duties. They are heavily pressed. They have undergone severe trials. She is dominated by her husband continuously. 'Fingers fluttering, 'ordeals', 'mastered', 'hard to pull' indicate her fear. By mentioning that it is 'Uncle's wedding band', the poet suggests that Uncle owns Jennifer too and that as a female, she is the property of her husband. The word 'massive' and 'heavily Aunt Jennifer lives a demanding sort of life in which she has to attend to her husband's needs and fulfil his commands. As a result she is somewhat worn out in her old age. Aunt Jennifer is 'ringed', trapped in her marriage and controlled like an animal. Her husband is her master. Her wish to be like the tiger, proud and unafraid' also shows her fear in real life. Tigers are fierce, courageous and independent animals. They lead the life the way they want to. But Aunt Jennifer is just opposite to tigers. She is quiet, coward, and totally dependent on her husband. She leads her life the way her husband likes for her. So tigers are an appropriate contrast to her.

Aunt Jennifer has an artistic talent. If she used it properly, she will surely become a great artist. But she has misused her ability because of cowardice. She can't go against the established pattern in life. She is pressed by 'the massive weight of household work. Instead of pleasing herself, she tries to please her dominating husband. She lives a quiet and subdued life. But the tigers she imagined are just opposite to her. They are proud, active, fearless, determined and chivalric. They move toward their goals with single-mindedness.

The tigers in the poem represent Jennifer's innermost desire. She wants to be strong like the tigers that do not fear the men. Like the beautiful animals in the jungle, she wants to create precious pieces of art. Her life has been uncertain, helpless. Her husband is strong and fearless, but he is not chivalrous. So she finds courage, justice and honour in the smooth movement of the tigers. Thus the tiger stand for her unfulfilled wishes. She can't revolt against him on her own. In order to gain freedom she must be like her tigers that prance being proud and unafraid. The word 'chivalric suggests her inner wish that is, her husband should show bravery, honour, generosity, and good manners to her like the knights in the Middle Ages did. She would like to go forward towards her aim, like the determined tigers.

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