Aunt Jennifers Tigers

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ADRIENNE RICH
(b. 1929)

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room Trying to talk with a Man Aoife O'Driscoll 2010
www.aoifesnotes.com Page 1 of 13

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

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. 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. 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

Glossary Prance – To bound, to walk with high, bouncing steps. Screen – This refers to the fire screens used to shelter people from the intense heat if they sat near the fire, or to the screens placed in front of an empty fireplace. Topaz – A yellow or golden semi-precious stone. Denizens – Inhabitants Sleek – Smooth, shiny, glossy. Chivalric – Behaving in a courteous, gallant way like the knights of old. Ivory – Elephant tusk Ordeals – Difficult or painful experiences.

Aoife O'Driscoll 2010

www.aoifesnotes.com

Page 2 of 13

Analysis Stanza One The poet describes the imaginary world created by Aunt Jennifer as she embroiders tigers on a fire screen. The tigers ''prance'' across the screen, implying that they are full of energy, strong, proud, carefree and unafraid. They are bright and golden – standing out against the green background. They are not full afraid and their brightness is not hidden. This is in contrast to the men ''beneath the tree''. This is the tigers' world and they ''pace'' through it in a confident, powerful manner. They are linked to the old system of knighthood by the word ''chivalric'', thus reminding us again of their power and strength. Yet there is a gallantry and dignity associated with the word ''chivalric'' which makes us wonder if the tigers are symbols of a positive sort of male power, compared to the men who are lurking in the shadows ''beneath the tree''. Stanza Two The poem now shifts away from the tigers and towards Aunt Jennifer. The power and energy of the first stanza vanishes as Aunt Jennifer is described. She is nothing like the strong, bright, confident creatures she has created. She does not move with strength and confidence. As she embroiders, her fingers are ''fluttering through her wool''. This suggests that she is weak and nervous. Even the act of creating this tapestry is difficult for her. She finds the ''ivory needle hard to pull.'' The whiteness of the needle is in contrast to the bright golds and greens in the world she is creating on the screen. The colours associated with Aunt Jennifer are pale, almost lifeless. We imagine bloodless, white fingers and a white, ivory needle. It is worth noting that ivory is taken from the tusks of elephants – linking this stanza back to the jungle where the tigers live. Men hunted elephants for their ivory – dominating the natural world and taking what they wanted. They also rode elephants when hunting tigers, again conjuring up the image of men as destructive and dominant. This idea of male dominance is picked up in the next lines when we read that Aunt Jennifer is weighed down by the her wedding ring. The hyperbole in the description of the ring as being a ''massive weight'' emphasises how powerless and weak Aunt Jennifer is and how

Aoife O'Driscoll 2010

www.aoifesnotes.com

Page 3 of 13

oppressed and controlled she is in her marriage. The wedding ring is more like a shackle than a piece of jewellery. Stanza Three In the final stanza, Rich imagines how Aunt Jennifer will be after death. She will, even in death, be ''terrified'' and the painful ''ordeals'' of her life will have marked her forever. She was ''mastered'' or conquered by these trials and will never be truly free. She is a victim, whether dead...
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