Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

Adrienne Rich

Difficult words and their meanings

Prance – To move ahead like a spirited horse
Topaz – a golden coloured gem
Sleek – elegant
Denizen – an animal or a person found in a particular place
Chivalry – courageous and courteous behaviour, especially towards women
Patriarchal society – A society where men hold the positions of power and prestige, typically involved in decision making.

Stanza-wise Analysis

Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers", depicts a woman trapped within the cultural constraints and responsibilities of married life.

In the first stanza, Aunt Jennifer’s situation and character is contrasted with her artistic creation that portrays her aspiration. The tapestry on which she has knitted tigers are very symbolic of what she wants to be in life - fearless, assertive, noble and powerful like the tiger as expressed in the words "They pace in sleek chivalric certainty". The word 'certainty' could portray the self-assuredness of the tiger or the confident bearing of the tiger as it is fearless of life. The tigers depicted as prancing across the screen bring to mind a being that is confident, self-assured and happy; all things that Aunt Jennifer is not. The use of colours implies that Aunt Jennifer's tigers and their land are more vital and enjoy a sense of freedom far greater than her. Yellow (bright topaz) connotes the sun and fierce energy, while green reminds one of spring and rebirth.

In the second stanza, Aunt Jennifer's present state is depicted. Her fingers are "fluttering through her wool" showing both physical and mental weakness. She finds it difficult to pull the needle. "The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band / Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand" reminds us that her marriage responsibilities weigh her down which makes her unable to realize her full potential as a woman in a male-dominated society. She escapes from her difficult situation through art i.e. through knitting.

The final stanza contains imagery that reflects back on the first two stanzas. The reference of the hands symbolizes Aunt Jennifer as a whole. Though her death would free her from her present miserable state, her hands will remain terrified with the wedding ring which binds her to her ordeals that took complete control of her. The only sign of her freedom from her present life is the art work which she escapes into by depicting the prancing, proud and unafraid tigers which is what she really wants to be and which she attains through her imagination.