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 in a spirited manner
Screen ‐ here, the wall or the surface of the tapestry
Topaz ‐ a bright yellow precious stone
Denizens ‐ inhabitants
Chivalric ‐ brave and honourable
Certainty ‐ confidence
Fluttering ‐ moving with a light irregular of trembling motion
Massive ‐ heavy
Wedding band ‐ wedding pact, signifying martial duties
Ringed ‐ confident of tied up
Ordeals ‐ unpleasant or painful experiences
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.
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.
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.