AUNT JENNIFER’S TIGERS BY ADRIENNE RICH
About The Poet: Adrienne Cecile Rich (1929 – 2012)
She was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was one of the most widely read and influenced poets of the second half of the 20th century. In her poems, she talks about a woman’s experiences in her married life. She has tried to explore the inner feelings of a woman who is living under the dominance of men. Adrienne rich was born in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She is widely known for her active involvement in the women’s movement. She has published 19 volumes of poetry, three collections of essays and other writings. She was strongly against racism and inequality prevailed in human society. In the poem, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers the poet describes the oppressed condition of women by males and their dominance in society.
Prance ‐ jump or move around in a spirited manner
Screen ‐ here, the wall or the surface of the tapestry
Topaz ‐ a bright yellow coloured precious stone
Denizens ‐ inhabitants – here, an animal that lives or is found in a particular place.
Chivalric : being courteous
Chivalric ‐ being courteous esp. to women, an act of a gentleman.
Certainty ‐ confidence
Fluttering ‐ to move in quick, irregular motions as if being agitated.
Massive ‐ heavy
Wedding band ‐ wedding pact, signifying martial duties
Ringed ‐ confident of tied up
Ordeals ‐ extremely severe tests or experiences..
Sleek : elegant.
Mastered ‐ controlled
Panel ‐ flat board
SUMMARY OF THE POEM
The poet expresses the inner feelings of a woman, Aunt Jennifer. The aunt embroiders a motif of young, brave tigers roaming freely through the vivid greenery.
She’s living a life of obedience to her husband’s orders. Her behaviours are dominated by him, and she’s always afraid of him. This pattern of free and brave tigers represents her inner desire to live a life of independence and fear. The tigers are sleek, beautiful and dazzling.
Aunt Jennifer’s fingers tremble as she’s embroidering. She’s 65, but she still fears her husband. She does not value the right to do what she wants to do. She’s afraid to do the embroidery, too, and she’s afraid of his rage. She’s been fulfilling the demands of her husband since the day she got married. The wedding ring on her hand is a daily reminder to her husband that she belongs. She was overwhelmed by the strain of a demanding marriage. Only her death will end the torture.
EXPLANATION OF THE POEM
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
Explanation: Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance and move across a screen or wall. They are bright coloured like the golden yellow jewel (topaz). They are the denizens (dwellers) of green forests. They are not afraid of the men standing under the tree. They are well-groomed (shining) and running fast on the panel with confidence.
( Here Aunt Jennifer has knitted images of tigers on the panel. They are not real or living tigers. The images of tigers are created by aunt on the panel with her own hands. The tigers represent her dreams. Her desire is to be free from fear and oppression that control her life and wants to become brave like tigers.)
Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band;
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.
Explanation: Aunt Jennifer’s hands are moving about her wool to create beautiful images of tigers. But the movement is not easy and smooth. Aunt finds the ivory needle very hard to pull through wool. The Uncle’s wedding band seems very heavy on her hand. She feels burdened with her marital (wedding) responsibilities.
(Aunt always fears from her husband. Her marital life is burdened for her. Through this stanza, the poet wants to carry the fact that a woman does not feel ease to carry the marital life. Her humour does not matter before her husband. She feels so much subjected that the marital bond is a burden on her. This is also with Aunt Jennifer.)
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hand will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she maid
Will go on prancing proud and unafraid.
Explanation: The final stage reveals aunt Jennifer will remain terrified always in her life as well as after her death. She will be confident with unpleasant painful experiences after her death because she is mastered by her husband. The tiger in the panel that she made will go on jumping. They will be proud and unafraid.
Rhyme scheme: AABB
Use of topaz to describe the yellow colour of tigers (Bright topaz)
‘finger fluttering, prancing proud, Chivalric certainty
Aunt, Tigers, wedding band, uncle, her hands, Embroidery,
● Aunt Jennifer represents women all over the world wedged under the tyrannical hand of a patriarchal society.
● Aunt Jennifer’s tigers symbolize her dreams and desires of being powerful, fearless, decisive and liberated.
● The wedding band signifies the patriarchal society where the command is defined as masculine.
● Uncle denotes the oppressor.
● Aunt Jennifer’s hands represent the reality of her life.
● Embroidery: a symbol of creative expression. The artwork reflects the suppressed impulses of the Aunt and becomes her release from the oppressive reality of her life.
● Ringed with ordeals: even death would not free her as the wedding band, a symbol of oppression, would still be on her finger.
(a) a weak and submissive woman weaving a picture of tigers that are strong and fearless.
(b) brutal tigers are depicted chivalric and the cultured man is depicted as an oppressor.
Theme of The Poem “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”
The principal theme of the poem is women’s freedom and feminism. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” sounds like a bead of good times. In reality, this is a woman whose life has been limited by the patriarchal or male-dominated society in which she lives. But the poem doesn’t give us any facts about that. It doesn’t tell us, for example, that Aunt Jennifer wasn’t allowed to go to college, or that Aunt Jennifer’s husband didn’t give her any say in financial matters. But the poem does strongly suggest that Aunt Jennifer’s life prospects have been limited by her gender and her marriage, which left her frightened in her bad times.
In ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,’ the restrictions that are problematic for Aunt Jennifer in life do not bind her to art. So, at least that’s what she’s got for her. Aunt Jennifer’s needlework allows her to experience a world of deep green forests and dancing brave tigers. It’s totally different from the real life that she’s leading the one weighed down by the sadness and limitations of her marriage and gender. Art in this poem is a kind of freedom, a freedom available to all, even the powerless.
When it comes to this poem, there’s a lot of immortality right up there with love. The poet seems passionate about the idea of their immortality. It is no surprise, therefore, that the theme of immortality, of life after death, is also reflected in “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.” The speaker sees that the tigers will continue to dance after Aunt Jennifer’s death, and that Aunt Jennifer will be able to live on through her art. Even though Aunt Jennifer’s wall may not be so famous, she still has to be immortal in her own.
“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” Setting
There is no setting specified in “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” and the poem does not contain any hints as to where it might be contextualised. The reader’s guess is that Aunt Jennifer is living in a society where the traditional heterosexual concept of marriage (one man and one woman) is dominant. Given that the author of the poem, Adrienne Rich, was living in the United States at the time of the publication of the poem in 1951, the reader can infer the setting to be America in the 1950s. This contextualization would fit the speaker’s portrayal of marriage and affirm the portrayal of Aunt Jennifer as being trapped in her marriage, since the opportunities for a woman to gain self-sufficiency outside her marriage would have been limited at this time.
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) What does the expression ‘Aunt Jennifer’s tigers’ imply?
Answer. Aunt Jennifer was embroidering a panel of prancing tigers. The poet refers to the tigers as Aunt Jennifer’s tigers because they are her creation, her work of art.
b) What does ‘prancing tigers’ symbolize?
Answer. Prancing tigers are a symbol of the spirit of freedom within Aunt Jennifer which remains subdued. They also symbolize her fear of her male counterpart.
c) Why are they referred to as ‘denizens of a world of green’?
Answer. The tigers are the dwellers of the green forest so they are referred to as denizens.
d) What qualities of the ‘tigers’ are highlighted here?
Answer. Fearlessness and ferocity of the tigers are highlighted here. Aunt Jennifer’s nervousness and timidity are in sharp contrast to wild ferocity of the tigers who are not afraid of hunting men. Unlike Aunt Jennifer, the tigers fear nothing.
e) Explain; “They pace in sleek chivalric certainty”.
Answer. The movement of the tigers is sleek, stealthy, sure, majestic and elegant. They are sure of their purpose. Gallant and confident, they move ahead fearlessly and undeterred.
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) Why do Aunt Jennifer’s fingers flutter through her wool?
Answer. Aunt’s fingers were not healthy and strong. She lives in constant fear of her chauvinist husband. She feels so nervous and terrified that her hands shake and flutter when she sits down to knit.
b) Why does she find it hard to pull the ivory needle?
Answer. She finds it hard to pull the ivory needle because of mental suppression and weakness. Confronting constant fear and bearing the constraints of married life, she has become a nervous wreck. She finds it difficult to pull the ivory needle through the tapestry more because of mental suppression than because of physical weakness.
c) Explain: ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’.
Answer. The expression is symbolic of male authority and power. Matrimony binds the woman physically as well as mentally, clipping her of her freedom of expression and independence. Likewise, Aunt Jennifer is trapped in gender oppression and feels burdened by the authority of her husband.
d) How is Aunt Jennifer affected by the ‘weight of matrimony’?
Answer. Aunt Jennifer cannot do things freely, she tries to come up to the expectation of her husband, she seems to have lost her identity. The freedom that she dreams of through her art is itself symbolic of her oppressed self.
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) What is Aunt Jennifer’s death symbolic of?
Answer. Aunt Jennifer’s death is symbolic of her complete submission to her suppression.
b) Explain: “terrified hands”.
Answer. Aunt Jennifer is terrified by her dominating husband and hence her hands are shivering.
c) What does ‘ringed with ordeals’ imply?
Answer. Aunt Jennifer has been so victimized in her life that even after death she remains trapped in the struggles of the spirit. Though we do not know what terrors Aunt Jennifer had to live with relatives did, we find her a victim of gender injustice and oppression.
d) Is the society in any way affected by Aunt Jennifer’s death?
Answer. Since the society is male-dominated, it shows no concern for Aunt’s suffering, even her death. The loss of her freedom is her individual loss. The society is not affected by it and the state of women still remains the same.
e) Explain: “the tigers in the panel….will go on prancing, proud and unafraid”.
Answer. The expression is symbolic of the dispassionate and unconcerned attitude of the male towards the desire for freedom among women. Even after her death, the social milieu remains unaffected, arrogant and ferocious.
SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS
1. How does Aunt Jennifer’s tiger look like?
Answer. The tigers, made by Aunt Jennifer on the screen, are jumping and playing about without any fear of the men beneath the tree. They walk in elegance and style displaying the spirit of courage, fearlessness, strength and confidence.
2. What do the tigers made by the Aunt symbolize?
Answer. The tigers made by Aunt Jennifer symbolize the spirit of courage, strength and fearlessness Aunt Jennifer, a victim of male oppression, expresses her crushed feelings in the form of art. So, the tigers are symbolic of the fear of male domination with which Aunt Jennifer suffers.
3. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer’s hands are fluttering through her wool? Why is she finding the needle so hard to pull?
Answer. Aunt Jennifer is victimized by the overbearing and dominant nature of her husband. Her life has become a torture due to her suppression by her atrocious husband. The fear of her authoritative husband has gone so deep into her being that she seems to have lost all strength and energy. This her hands shake and flutter so much that she is not even able to pull the needle through the tapestry.
4. What do you understand by “massive weight of uncle’s wedding band”?
Answer. Generally ‘wedding band’ is a symbol of joy and happiness. But in the case of Aunt Jennifer, it has become a symbol of torture and oppression. Her relationship with her authoritative husband has become a painful burden to carry. Her ‘wedding band’ has brought her a world of pain, misery and torture. She has lost her freedom and entered a world of humiliation and oppression.
5. Explain ’her terrified hands will lie, still ringed with the ordeals she was mastered by’.
Answer. These lines convey Aunt’s complete submission to the oppressive authority of her husband. The fear of her husband has gone so deep into her being that even death cannot liberate her from the chains of her mental suppression. Memories of her husband’s tortures and atrocities which bent her into humiliating slavery will continue to haunt her even after her death.
6. Explain ‘The tigers in the panel ——- proud and unafraid.’
Answer. Here the tigers symbolize the unquestioned authority of man enjoyed by him over his woman counterpart. The lines suggest the dispassionate and unconcerned attitude of the male towards the desire for freedom among women. Here, Aunt Jennifer tries to find an escape in her art but ends up portraying an image of her own suppression. While a woman can never free herself from the oppressive authority of her male counterpart, the male, on the other hand, will go on enjoying his authoritative arrogance and ferocity without any fear of regrets.
THINK IT OUT (ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS)
Q. How do ‘denizens’ and ‘chivalric’ add to understanding of the tiger’s attitude?
Ans. The Tigers are the ‘denizens’ of the forest. They are very brave and fearless. They are ‘chivalric’. They occupy honourable and majestic positions in the world of Animals. So the use of ‘denizens’ and ‘chivalric’ adds to our understanding of the tiger’s attitude.
Q. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer’s hands are fluttering through her wool in the second stanza? Why is she finding the needle so hard to pull?
Ans. Ant Jennifer is creating Tiger on the screen. Her hands are fluttering through her wool. She had bitter and unpleasant experiences of her married life. The memory of her married life is still fresh in her mind. So she finds the needle so hard to pull.
Q. What is suggested by the image ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’?
Ans. The poet uses many images and symbols to describe the unpleasant experience of Aunt Jennifer’s married life. The massive weight of ‘Uncles wedding band’ is a symbol of harsh and bitter experiences of married life of Aunt Jennifer. The Wedding band also stands for the unbreakable bond of marriage between the husband and wife.
Q. Of what or whom is Aunt Jennifer terrified with the third stanza?
Ans. Aunt Jennifer’s is creating Tiger on the screen. She is terrified. She had gone through with bitter and harsh experiences in her married life. The memory of her married life is still fresh in her mind. She is still in rip of the unpleasant experiences of her married life. So she is frightened.
Q. What are the ‘ordeals’ Aunt Jennifer is surrounded by, why is it significant that the poet uses the word ‘ringed’? What is the meaning of the word ‘ringed’ in the poem?
Ans. Aunt Jennifer had a bitter and unpleasant married life. ‘Ordeals’ stands for the bitter and unpleasant experiences of her married life. The poet uses the word ‘ringed’ which suggests that Aunt Jennifer is still surrounded by the bitter experiences of her past life. Another meaning of the word ‘ringed’ is encircled.
Q. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer created animals that are so different from her own character? What might the poet be suggesting through this difference?
Ans. Aunt Jennifer creates Tiger on the screen. These Tigers are brave and fearless. They are different from Aunt Jennifer character. The poet wants to suggest that Aunt Jennifer wants to express her desire to be confident and brave through her creation. So the Tigers are different from her own character.
Q. Interpret the symbol found in this poem.
Ans. The poet uses symbols in the poem. The Tigers are the symbol of courage, honour, bravery and confidence. The massive weight of ‘Uncle’s wedding band’ is a symbol of harsh and bitter experiences of Aunt Jennifer’s married life. ‘Ordeals’ and ‘Ringed’ also stands for bitter and harsh experiences.
Q. Do you Sympathize with Aunt Jennifer. What is the attitude of the speaker towards Aunt Jennifer?
Ans. Yes, we are sympathized with Aunt Jennifer. The poet has also a sympathetic attitude towards Aunt Jennifer. She uses many symbols to describe the harsh and unpleasant married life of Aunt Jennifer.
Model Questions of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers J& K BOSE
Q. What is the theme of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers?
A. The tigers in the poem symbolize the freedom and confidence that seem unattainable to Aunt Jennifer in her real life. While the tigers are vibrant and bold, described with powerful, active verbs like “prance” and “pace,” Aunt Jennifer is too weak to even handle her needle.
Q. NWhat is the tone of the poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers towards the end?
A. The tone appears to be positive and cheerful when the poet describes the tiger but it becomes sad and dull at times of describing aunt Jennifer.
Q. What is the difference between Aunt Jennifer and her tigers?
A. Aunt Jennifer’s tigers are proud, free, dauntless, and sure of themselves. Unlike them, Aunt Jennifer is terrified, weak, and unsure of herself. She is burdened by her married life. … In these ways, she is different from the tigers.
Q. Why are they referred to as denizens of a world of green?
A. Tigers live in the green forests. Also, they have mastered survival in their habitat. they are are unafraid and ferocious and walk aroung fearlessly like kings in their habitat. Hence, they have been described as “denizens of the green world”.
Q. Why did Aunt Jennifer create Tigers?
A. To express her bitterness and anger against male dominance, Aunt Jennifer chooses to embroider tigers on the panel. The nature of tigers symbolizes strength, fearlessness and splendour which is in sharp contrast to her own meek nature because of which she has suffered endlessly.
Q. What do the Tigers of Aunt Jennifer symbolize?
A. The Tigers are the symbol of courage, honor, bravery and confidence. The massive weight of ‘Uncle’s wedding band’ is symbol of harsh and bitter experiences of Aunt Jennifer’s married life.
Q. Why did the poet use aunt instead of Aunt Jennifer in the third stanza?
A. In the last stanza she met to her last stage death. She submitted her self as a complete suppression. But she still ringed her husband ordeals or bad memories, a name that attached with her as log last “Jennifer” after her death too. That why poets used only aunt in the last stanza.
Q. What are the ordeals aunt Jennifer is surrounded by?
A. Aunt Jennifer is surrounded by the ordeals of the heavy responsibilities of her married life towards the family and towards Uncle Jennifer. The poetess used the word ‘ringed’ to point that Aunt was surrounded by the responsibilities which encircled her like a ring that surrounds the finger.
Q. Why do Aunt Jennifer’s fingers flutter?
A. Aunt Jennifer’s fingers flutter because she is terrorised and traumatised by the constraints of her married life. it is the fear, it is the weight of the band that signifies her wedding. It is the dominance of her husband over her which causes her to lose her courage and makes her fingers flutter through the wool.
Q. Who is the aunt afraid of? Or Of what or of whom is Aunt Jennifer terrified with in the third stanza?
A. Aunt Jennifer is terrified of her husband, who dominates her in her married life.
Q. Why does Aunt Jennifer find it difficult to pull the needle?
A. Aunt Jennifer’s hands are ‘fluttering through her wool’ because she is an old lady on whom age has taken its toll. The fluttering of Aunt Jennifer’s fingers also signifies her oppressed mental condition which makes it difficult for her to even pull an ivory needle while embroidering
Q. What is suggested by the phrase massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band?
A. The image ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’ suggests that she was overburdened with duties and responsibilities, post her marriage.
Q. Do you sympathize with Aunt Jennifer?
A. Yes, the character of Aunt Jennifer wins our sympathy as a reader. Her ordeals and sufferings move the reader. Even the speaker in the poem shows sympathy and pity towards her. The speaker says that even after Aunt Jennifer’s death, she will be terrified of her husband and the ordeals of her marriage.
Q. What lies in store for the aunt?
A. According to the poet, When Aunt Jennifer would die, even after death she will not be freed from her troubles. … Even death would not be able to release her from the ordeals. So, these are all in store for aunt Jennifer when she would die.
Q. Why does Aunt Jennifer seek refuge in art?
A. Aunt Jennifer has a troubled married life with a domineering and oppressive husband. She tries to find refuge in art, but even here, she cannot leave behind the weight of her conjugal life. Thus, her hands quiver so much that she cannot pull even the needles through the base cloth.
Q. Why do you think Aunt Jennifer created animals?
A. In creating animals that are different from her own character, Aunt Jennifer found a means of living an alternate life that is denied to her: a life that is proud, free, fearless and sure of itself. The tigers denote her yearning for power, freedom and fearless living.
Q. What character traits of Aunt Jennifer’s come to light in the poem?
Ans. Aunt Jennifer comes across as a terrified and feeble person totally lacking in confidence, who is a victim of her domineering husband.
Q. Do you think Aunt Jennifer is both a victim and an oppressor?
A. Aunt Jennifer was a victim of oppression received from her husband in her marriage life. She was an oppressor as the tigers which she has embroidered on the panel were a symbol for freedom and fearlessness which Aunt Jennifer dreamed to acquire.
Q. What were the aunt ordeal?
A. Aunt Jennifer’s ordeal was the denial of freedom and domination by her husband. The question has been asked from the poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers. Aunt Jeniffer was not happy about her marriage. The weight of her wedding ring that had been tightly on her finger symbolized her married life’s ordeals and hardships.
Q. What does prancing tiger symbolize?
A. rancing tigers are a symbol of the spirit of freedom within Aunt Jennifer which remains subdued. They also symbolize her fear of her male counterpart.
Q. Which literary device is used in terrified hands?
A. Synecdoche and transferred epithet- terrified hands’ representing her being terrified.
Q. What does Uncle wedding band mean?
A. ‘Massive weight of uncle’s wedding band’ represents the marriage band between Jennifer and uncle. It suggests the harsh and difficult experiences of her married life. After marriage she had lost all her freedom. Aunt was like a heavy band put on her.
Q. What difficulty does Aunt Jennifer face while making her tigers and why?
A. The problem faced by aunt Jennifer while making the tigers is that her hands are fluttering while making the tigers because of the massive weight of her husband’s wedding band which sits heavily on her hand. It is like a burden that makes even the ivory needle hard to pull.
Q. Why does the poet uses massive weight and sits heavily for uncle’s ring?
A. The massive weight of the ring symbolizes the way in which Aunt Jennifer’s marriage to a man who frightens her weighs her down and almost prevents her from being creative
Q. What will the Tiger do after Aunt Jennifer dies?
A. Even after her death, the tigers made by her will continue to prance across the screen and will live on. The tigers will not die and go to the grave with a band resting upon their fingers which would remind them of the duties. The tigers will remain free and bold even after aunt Jennifer’s death.
Why is it significant that the poet uses the word ‘ringed’? … The use of word ‘ringed’, in the poem, is significant and appropriate because it correctly represents the vicious circle from which Aunt Jennifer is unable to free herself.
Q. What qualities of the Tigers are highlighted here?
A. Fearlessness and ferocity of the tigers are highlighted here. Aunt Jennifer’s nervousness and timidity are in sharp contrast to wild ferocity of the tigers who are not afraid of hunting men. Unlike Aunt Jennifer, the tigers fear nothing.
Q. Which figure of speech is used in Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers?
A. The metaphor ‘bright topaz’ depicts the shining yellow complexion of her tigers. The effective use of alliteration in ‘sleek, chivalric certainty’ describes the pace of the tigers effectively. ‘The massive weight of wedding band’ symbolises ordeals and hardships of Aunt Jennifer’s married fife.
Q. What does the wedding band symbolize?
A. The wedding ring is an emblem of love through time, a symbol of devotion and an agreement between two parties to love and cherish one another for the rest of their days. Wedding rings are, of course, circular in shape and this in itself carries a symbolic meaning for the couple getting married.
Q. What is the irony in the poem Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger?
A. It is ironical that Aunt Jennifer’s creations- the tigers will continue to pace and prance freely, while Aunt herself will remain terrified even after death, ringed by the ordeals she was controlled by in her married life.
Q. What is Aunt Jennifer state of mind?
A. Aunt jennifer is depressed. she is burdened with the thoughts of oppressions by her husband she had suffered . That is why she is knitting a tiger which is strong and not scared of anyone.
Q. Why is Aunt Jennifer’s death significant?
A. The poet conjectures that when the aunt would die she would be buried with the wedding ring still on her finger. This suggests that she would not be able to fulfil her dreams and that even when dead she would be subjected to the life and ritual she so hated.