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Explication of Adrienne Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” Essay

Adrienne Rich did a wonderful job portraying the trials of abused and battered women in this poem. These trials could possibly be explained by Rich being the niece of Aunt Jennifer; therefore, personal feelings are exposed throughout the piece. The speaker speaks in an admiring, sincere, tone and her sympathy is apparent because she herself is a female. Rich’s poem, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” is about the trials of an older woman in distress because her marriage is in trouble, and she is too afraid to leave her husband. The most apparent point in the poem is the ongoing contrast between the fictional tigers and Aunt Jennifer.

The tigers represent a powerful character created by Aunt Jennifer through her needlework, which she uses as an escape. While the tigers move with certainty, “Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen” (1). Aunt is nervous and afraid: “Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool” (5). Webster’s dictionary defines flutter as a condition of nervous agitation. Aunt is agitated and in a hurry to create the image of the tigers to get her mind off of her husband. “Bright topaz denizens of a world of green” (2) creates a feeling of greenery which represents the living surroundings of the jungle where a tiger would be found. Line two shows the reader how Aunt describes the tiger’s home, while at the same time Aunt is in her home. The contrast is shown between Aunt Jennifer and the tigers through the attitude of the characters.

Aunt Jennifer creates images of tigers because it gives a sense of protection against Aunt’s husband and all men in her eyes. “They do not fear the men beneath the trees” (3), speaking of the tigers for their brave stand against the men, whereas the Aunt is scared of the men: “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band / Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand” (7-8). The ring is made of metal and is not physically heavy, for it symbolizes her heavy hardships she has had with her husband. She fears the men, but she feels better knowing the tigers are there to watch over her. The hand with the ring is also holding an “ivory needle” (6), which she uses to stitch the tigers. Ivory is thought to be pure and heavenly, and she is using the needle to knit an image that represents safety. The tigers and the ivory are being used as diversionary tactics to cancel out thoughts of Aunt Jennifer’s husband.

The poem in itself contains many literary devices that allow the reader to understand better what the author is trying to say. Alliteration is apparent throughout the entire poem. “Sleek chivalric certainty” (4) indicates the tigers are confident with themselves and fear nothing or nobody. “Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering” (6) is an example of alliteration that shows the reader how seriously she wants to finish the artwork. “Prancing, proud” (12) gives the reader a sense of the power of the tigers and how much of a threat they can be. The repetition of the consonants in line six and line twelve emphasis how strong Rich wanted those lines to be heard. As the poem rolls on, the reader notices a rhyme scheme that is very simple and easy to follow. “Across a screen” (1) and “world of green” (2) are examples of the rhyme in this poem. The rhyme scheme continues AABBCCDDEEFF. “Tree” (3) and “certainty” (4) are examples approximate rhyme. Imagery is used to create the tigers, and symbolism created a character that Aunt Jennifer could never be.

The third stanza speaks about what will happen when Aunt Jennifer passes away. “When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie/ Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by” (9-10): Aunt Jennifer will lie in her deathbed wearing the ring that tainted her life. Until that day, she will keep finding things to get her mind off of her husband. “The tigers in the panel that she made/ Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid” (11-12): even when Aunt dies, the tigers she created will continue to conquer the men and will go on protecting all women who struggle the way she did.

This twelve line poem is a representation of all women who are treated with disrespect. Adrienne Rich uses many different devices to draw out her poem just as she wants it. The vivid word choice used in every line is symbolic throughout the entire poem. Line by line, Rich explains how a certain woman uses her hobby to create a character used to block out her trials with her husband. The story contrasts the tigers with the men and how anything can be defeated.


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