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.

As we will come to know later in the poem, Aunt Jennifer is a very mild woman who lacks self-confidence and is terrified of most things in her life.  She is seen designing a tapestry of tigers in a green forest. The tigers appear to prance around confidently, unafraid of the hunters hiding among the trees. They move around in elegance and certainty. ‘Chivalric’ symbolizes knightly bravery. Using astounding poetry, she describes the tigers as bright topaz denizens – ‘denizens’ meaning inhabitants. The world of green is their home – the forest. A beautiful contrast of colors is sprung. The tigers wander through the forests with a grace that everything around them belongs to them. This gives them a dignity that makes them unafraid of man.

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.

Aunt Jennifer, as we will see in the last paragraph, is a woman, who is terrified of the marital ordeals in her life. Hence, the wedding band appears to be weighing her down. She appears to be bound to social and marital obligations and the wedding band appears more of a restraint than a symbol of love or joy or freedom. She seems to have lost her freedom of expression in her marriage, and therefore expresses herself through the only way she knows – her art of designing tapestries. Being the mild woman she is, she wishes to channelize her desire of becoming that bold woman who stands up for herself. This she does, by creating tigers who are entirely opposite in nature to herself. Whilst she is terrified of everything in life, the tigers are bold and strong and do not fear anything. Whilst she is meek and unable to express herself, the tigers are elegant and pace with assured certainty. Why, Aunt Jennifer seems frightened even in the making of these bold, elegant beasts! This is seen in the fact that her fingers tremble in pulling the light, weightless ivory needle.

With creativity, it can be seen that like a ringed-in animal at a circus with no freedom, Aunt Jennifer appeared to be ringed in (with her wedding band) with no freedom.

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 prancing, proud and unafraid.

The poet has smartly used a synecdoche in which Aunt Jennifer’s hands represent her whole being.

The poet does not show if she sympathizes with Aunt Jennifer or not. This paragraph vaguely indicates that the poet may have expected better from Aunt Jennifer. She might have stood up for herself more and freed herself from all social, marital obligations and restraints. It might be too late; it might not – but when aunt is dead, she will still be imprisoned in her restraints. There will be no freedom for her, even in death. However the tigers that she has crafted will continue to prance around their home – the forest – bold, proud and unafraid.


14 thoughts on “Adrienne Rich’s Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers – finally makes sense

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Will definitely take into consideration. However, the use of words here are quite familiar. To simplify it further would be to delve into complete informality. – Not the purpose of this post. 🙂

  1. i guess its all about interpretation, but many other posts and books make it seem as though the poet is sympathizing with aunt jennifer. i honestly have no cl ue as to which ones right because , here there isnt any middle ground.. she either does or she doesnt .. please help.

  2. I sometimes discuss another interpretation of the poem .. an irony,. that it is aunt Jennifer(Woman ) who is the creator of the Tigers (men) who prance about proud and unafraid .. but unfortunately the woman has to submit to the same men(husbands and sons ) who she herself gave the image of tigers in the family as well as society . …

    1. Uh, you’ve left me a little confused here. A Transferred epithet is when you place an adjective to qualify a noun apart from a person or a thing. Its like giving animate adjectives to inanimate things. This way, the resulting clause would make grammatical sense but, logical sense – not always. For instance, a sleepless night, wide-eyed amazement, golden days / years, terrible day, etc…

      A Synecdoche, on the other hand, is a figure of speech wherein a part of something refers to the whole of something. For instance, when I say ‘helping hand’, I don’t mean that it is only the hand that helps but the whole person. A Synecdoche is very different from Metonymy as well. Metonymy can be understood by “The container and the contained” That is, the container represents what is contained. For instance, if I say, “The White House has agreed to a Bill this morning”, I don’t mean that the White house (Container) suddenly got a mind of its own to make a decision, I mean that the Contained – the President has agreed to make a decision.

      In the last stanza, when I used a synecdoche, I meant that Aunt Jennifer’s hands represent her whole. Although not mentioned directly, the term ‘ringed’ has multiple connotations. The (marital) ring represents her marriage – once again, the use of synecdoche, where a part represents the whole. Another connotation is the verb ‘ringed’ – the kind of ‘ring’ (no pun intended 🙂 ) the phrase gives, is as though she is some circus animal ringed in, and made to tolerate sufficient torture without fighting back or defending herself.

      I hope this solves your doubt. Please let me know if there is anything that needs a little more clarity. 🙂 Have a pleasant day.

  3. Tigers are just her expression of desire to be free from male dominance ( tigers not afraid of men under the tree)..
    2. Sleek chivalric certaintly – given by aunt to tigers is – -parallel – to same trait given by woman to man by letting him dominate her….Both can be snatched – her impressions on art by her pulling of threads and male sleek chivalric certaintly – by standing upto him and challenge his authority – though ironically aunt does not realise it.

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