Aunt Jennifer’s tigers is a poem by Adrienne Rich illustrating her feminist concerns. In the male dominant world, a women of her time was only supposed to be a dutiful homemaker. This poem through the world of Aunty Jennifer, tells us about her inner desire to free herself from the clutches of abusive marriage and patriarchal society.
The first stanza opens with Aunt Jennifer’s visual tapestry of tigers who are fearless of their environment. "Bright topaz denizens of a world of green" – evoke an image that these regal tigers are unafraid of other beings in the jungle. Bright here signifies their powerful and radiant persona. There is a sense of certainty and confidence in the way these tigers move as can be seen in the line – "They pace in sleek chivalric certainty".
In the second stanza, the reality of Aunt Jennifer is revealed as she is feeble, weak and enslaved, very much the opposite of the tigers she was knitting. Her physical and mental trauma is depicted in the line – "find even the ivory needle hard to pull". Even though a wedding ring doesn’t weigh much, "the massive weight of uncle’s wedding band, sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand" signifies the amount of dominance her husband exercised over her. This also means that her inner free spirit has been jailed by the patriarchal society.
The last stanza starts on a creepy note about Aunt Jennifer’s death. Even her death couldn’t free her from the ordeals she went through which can be seen in "When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by". But her art work which was her escape route or in a way, her inner sense of freedom, will stay forever, proud and unafraid.
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.