Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

About the Poet:

Adrienne Cecile Rich ( May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012) was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century", and was credited with bringing "the oppression of women  to the forefront of poetic discourse."Widely read and hugely influential, Rich’s career spanned seven decades and has hewed closely to the story of post-war American poetry itself. Her earliest work, including A Change of World (1951) which won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Award, was formally exact and decorous, while her work of the late 1960s and 70s became increasingly radical in both its free-verse form and feminist and political content.

Summary

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers is an interesting poem which looks at the life of a married woman, the institution of marriage within which she suffers and shows how she uses art as a medium to escape the reality she’s in. Divided into three stanzas of two couplets each, the poem employs a   rhyme scheme of aabbccddeeff. The poem uses the figure of Aunt Jennifer and her needlework – a tapestry of magnificent tigers in a forest in order to explore the themes of womanhood, marriage, repression of one’s personality and the importance of artistic expression.

One look at the poem tells us that the first stanza is all about Aunt Jennifer’s tigers, the second about the aunt herself and the third stanza brings the two together where a part of Aunt Jennifer is preserved in the tigers she’s stitched.  In three short stanzas,  the  speaker demonstrates how marriage as an institution has failed to allow Aunt Jennifer the full realization of her self, how the artistic expression through her needlework provides a space where she can project her bottled-up aspirations and how her art will live beyond her death as an expression of her identity. 

With its striking colour imagery and highly sensory language, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers gives a glimpse in the life of a woman who finds herself weighed down by the institution of marriage and finds her only escape in the art that she produces.

FIRST STANZA


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.

EXPLANATION

  • The poet is talking about a lady whom she addresses as aunt, Jennifer.

  • She is embroidering a piece of cloth. It could be a table cloth or a wall hanging.

  • The pattern shows tigers who are moving and jumping around all over the fabric.

  • They are bright yellow in colour like the colour of the topaz stone (use of metaphor).

  • The dense green forest background is their home.

  • They are the proud and fearless citizens of the forest.

  • Here is a contrast between Aunt Jennifer and her tigers. The tigers are fearless but this lady, who is embroidering them is not so.

  • The tigers look elegant, shining and full of the gentleman’s grace.

 

The poet is describing a lady whom she addresses as Aunt Jennifer. She says that Aunt Jennifer is doing embroidery on a piece of cloth which could be a table cloth or a wall hanging. She has designed it with beautiful tigers which are running fearlessly in the green forest. She has described their beauty by comparing them with a precious yellow stone known as topaz. She says that they appear bright yellow in the green backdrop of the forest. They are fearless and they are not affected by the presence of men. Here we can sense the contrast of behavior between the tigers and aunt, though the tigers designed by her are fearless but she herself is afraid of her husband. Further, the poet says that the tigers are proud and fearless citizens of the forests. They are very shiny and elegant. 

 

Rhyme scheme: aabb

 

Literary Devices

 

Anaphora: use of same word in two consecutive lines (they do not … and they pace in…)

Metaphor: Use of topaz to describe the yellow color of tigers (Bright topaz)

  

SECOND STANZA

 

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.

 

EXPLANATION

  • The lady’s fingers are trembling with the fear of her husband.

  • She is pursuing her hobby in her free time but probably, she is still afraid of her husband who could scold her.

  • Her fingers are so tired of working endlessly all her life

  • The needle is also heavy for her to pull out of the cloth.

  • The words ‘uncle’s wedding band’ as the band was bought by her husband, it is his till today.

  • The lady is dependent on her husband .

  • She is still burdened by the weight of the ring. ‘weight’ means the encirclement or trapping that has fallen upon her by getting married to him, she has been burdened by the obligations of married life, has become the man’s property.

  • She has been living a demanding life due to which she has worn out in her old age.

 

Here the poet describes the fear of Aunt Jennifer towards her husband. She says that while she is doing embroidery, her fingers are quivering (shaking) with fear of her husband.  Her husband doesn’t approve of her hobby of embroidery. Therefore, she trembles while she is embroidering the piece of cloth. It has become difficult for her to pull her needle up and down. Then she describes the wedding ring which was given by uncle to Aunt Jennifer on their wedding day. She says that it is a kind of burden for her to wear this ring. She has been tortured by her husband so much that the wedding ring which could have been a beautiful gift for her seems like a burden to her. She has faced so many difficulties in her married life that the little ring is described as a heavy band on her trembling fingers. This means that the ring is associated with some bad experiences in the form of torture she has faced because of her husband’s dominating behaviour.

Rhyme scheme: aabb

 

Literary device:

 

Alliteration: ‘f’ sound is repeated in finger fluttering

THIRD STANZA


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.

EXPLANATION

  • Her wish to live a free, fearless life is indicated by her choice of design – tigers.

  • It shows her innermost desire of being strong, fearless which has been overpowered by her husband.

  • Probably, her ordeal will end upon her death.

  • Her frightened, shaking fingers will be put to rest.

  • But still, even after death, the ring shall remain on her hand, i.e. her husband’s rule over her is not yet over!

  • After her death, her desire of freedom and fearlessness shall remain alive in these tigers which she has embroidered.

 

The poet says that one can easily sense aunt’s desire for freedom and fearlessness through her design of tigers. Further she says that it is not possible for aunt to achieve this freedom during her lifetime. She will attain it only after her death but here also the irony of her life is that still, she will be tied up with shackles in the form of her husband’s wedding ring. The ring was the sole proof of the tortures which she had faced from her husband. On the other hand, there are the tigers designed by Aunt Jennifer which will always depict her desire of living a fearless life by jumping proudly and bravely on the piece of cloth.

Rhyme scheme: aabb

 

Literary devices

 

alliteration: ‘p’ is repeated in prancing proud

New words
 

Prance :  walk or move around with high springy steps.
Topaz : a bright yellow coloured stone.
Denizens :  here, an animal that lives or is found in a particular place.
Sleek : elegant.
Chivalric : being courteous esp. to women, an act of a gentleman.
Ordeals: extremely severe tests or experiences.
Prancing : to move around proudly.

Fluttering : to move in quick, irregular motions as if being agitated.

4 Marks Questions

Question 1 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

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 is Aunt Jennifer doing with her wool?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer is embroidering beautiful images of tigers by using wool.

b) Why does she find it difficult to pull her ivory needle?

Answer : She finds it difficult to pull her ivory needle as she is terrorised and traumatised by the constraints of her married life.

c) What does ‘wedding band’ stand for?

Answer : The wedding band stands for her martial responsibilities but she feels burdened by them as she is not able to express herself.

d) Describe the irony in the third line.

Answer : The irony in the third line is that her marriage instead of proving blissful has overburdened her with responsibilities and her wedding band symbolises her bondage to her husband and his overpowering nature.

Question 2 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

 

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) Why are the tigers called Aunt Jennifer’s tigers?

Answer : The tigers are called Aunt Jennifer’s tigers as they were being embroidered on the tapestry of Aunt Jennifer.

b) How are they described here?

Answer : The tigers have been described here as bold and fearless and they move across the screen with confidence.

c) How are they different from Aunt Jennifer?

Answer : The tigers are different from Aunt Jennifer as they are shown as symbols of strength, fearlessness and confidence. Aunt Jennifer has been described as a timid female who is burdened with marital responsibilities and she is lacking in confidence.

d) What does the word, ‘chivalric’ mean?

Answer :  The world ‘chivalric’ means ‘gallant’ or ‘brave’.

Question 3 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

 

When Aunt is dead, her terrible 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) Who is the aunt mentioned here?

Answer : The aunt mentioned here is Aunt Jennifer, the protagonist of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’.

b) Why is she “ringed with ordeals”?

Answer : The ‘ring’ here refers to her wedding band or ring, which has brought with it a host of family responsibilities. She feels so surrounded (i.e., ringed) by her marital constraints that it seems like an ordeal to her.

c) What is the difference between her and the tigers?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer is quiet weak and submissive, whereas the tigers are strong, bold and powerful. She is bound by the constraints of her married life, while the tigers are free to move about in the green woods.

d) Why has Aunt Jennifer created the tigers so different from her own character?

Answer : The tigers created by Aunt Jennifer are an expression of her desire to free herself from the constraints of her married life. She wants to be bold and fearless like her tigers.

Question 4 : Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

 

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty

a) Who are ‘They’? Where are ‘They’?

Answer : ‘They’ refers to the tigers that Aunt Jennifer has knit on the panel. They are prancing in the forest (across a screen).

b) Why are ‘They’ not afraid of men?

Answer : The tigers are not afraid of men because they are gallant and fearless creatures who are not afraid of anyone.

c) What is the meaning of ‘sleek’?

Answer : The meaning of ‘sleek’ is ‘elegant’.

d) Who is the poet of this poem?

Answer : The name of the poet is Adrienne Rich.

3 Marks Questions (30 – 40 Words)

Question 1 : What picture of male chauvinism (tyranny) do we find in the poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’?

Answer : In the poem, ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’, Aunt Jennifer was oppressed by her husband. She was confined within the four walls of of her husband’s house and was not free to do what she wished. She was also overburdened by her marital responsibilities.

Question 2 : Aunt Jennifer’s efforts to get rid of her fear proved to be futile. Comment.

Answer : Although Aunt Jennifer tried her best to conquer her fear, she continued to be traumatised and oppressed by her husband. Her act of embroidaring fearless, prancing tigers could only give her a temporary release to her pent up feelings of liberation.

Question 3 : What is suggested by the phrase, ‘massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band’?

Answer : The weight that lies heavily on Aunt Jennifer’s hand is the wedding band, which symbolises the harsh and difficult experiences of her married life. It is associated with her husband as he has traumatised her.

Question 4 : Why does Aunt Jennifer create animals that are so different from her own character?

Answer : 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 and fearless.

Through this difference, the poet suggests Aunt Jennifer’s suppressed desire to become bold and fearless, and free from oppression.

Question 5 : What are the difficulties that Aunt Jennifer faced in her life?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer was probably a victim of oppression at the hands of the patriarchal society. She was subjugated by her husband and was not free to do what she wished.

Question 6 : How are Aunt Jennifer’s tigers different from her?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer’s tigers present a sharp contrast to her. While the Aunt is weak, meek, submissive and bound by restrictions, the tigers are strong, fearless, confident and free to move wherever they wish.

 

Question 7 : How does Aunt Jennifer express her bitterness and anger against male dominance?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer expresses her bitterness and anger against male dominance silently through her art. She creates tigers on her tapestry; animals that are unafraid of men and are symbolic of bravery, fearlessness and strength.

 

Question 8 : Why has Aunt Jennifer made ‘prancing proud and unafraid’ tigers?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer lived a fearful and restricted life. She expressed her desire of being free, unafraid and proud by knitting tigers that were ‘prancing, proud and unafraid’.

 

Question 9 : What will happen to Aunt Jennifer’s tigers when she is dead?

Answer : The tigers created by Aunt Jennifer would live forever. They will keep on prancing proud and unafraid even after her death.

 

Question 10 : What kind of married life did Aunt Jennifer lead?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer was confined to live inside her husband’s house and was not free to do what she wished. She was burdened with her marital responsibilities and led a traumatic married life.

 

Question 11 : Why did Aunt Jennifer choose to embroider tigers on the panel?

Answer : Aunt Jennifer chose to embroider tigers on the panel because for her, the tigers were the symbols of bravery, fearlessness and strength. Unlike her, they were not afraid of men around them.

 

Question 12 : How do the words, ‘denizens’ and ‘chivalric’ add to our understanding of Aunt Jennifer’s tigers?

Answer :  ‘Denizens’ means that the tigers inhabit a green world where they are free from any boundations. ‘Chivalric’ means that they are brave and courageous.

 

Question 13 : What do the symbols , ‘tigers’, ‘fingers’ and ‘ring’ stand for in the poem, ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’?

Answer : The ‘tigers’ are symbols of bravery and courage and also of Aunt Jennifer’s desire for freedom. The ‘fingers’ are symbol of fear experienced by Aunt Jennifer and ‘ring’ symbolises an oppressive and binding marriage.

 

Question 14 : How has Aunt Jennifer created her tigers? What traits of tigers do they reveal?

Answer : According to the poet, Aunt Jennifer’s tigers are golden-yellow in colour and are prancing across the screen. They live in a forest and are sleek, chivalric, majestic, elegant and unafraid of men.

 

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