Personification of “Tigers” in Adrienne Rich’s Poem

Hello everyone. Please read my fourth article in the series of my literary reviews/criticisms. I published this in 2018 in a journal. Please read on.

In Adriene Rich’s poem, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers from her first collection of poetry, A Change of World, she portrays the tremendous turmoil, as well as, courage in the hearts and minds of women represented by one Aunt Jennifer. She brings forth the crushing powers of the patriarchal society that uses its male chauvinistic faculties to trample and subdue the woman in the name of marriage. But she also presents the indomitable and unconquerable spirit of the woman who persists even on the face of the worst adversity, which according to Rich, is “the weight of the marriage ring” on the woman’s finger. This mightier internal power of the woman is manifested through several other ways. The woman is controlled physically by the man she marries but her spirit is free and fierce. Rich makes a point about the invincible spirit of the woman in the opening stanza itself beautifully sketching the scenario of Aunt Jennifer’s embroidery of the tiger.

Talking about Aunt Jennifer she states,

 “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.” (4)

The tigers seem to be prancing out at something with all their passionate and fierce might without caring for the men who stand “beneath” the tree waiting to trap them into confinement of marriage. It seems that it is probably Aunt Jennifer herself attacking the patriarchal supremacy with all her bottled up powers that have been accumulated in her heart since a very long time. She personifies herself into an embodiment of a tiger through her embroidery which doesn’t care about the “The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band”, that “Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand” (4). Aunt Jennifer is a representative of those millions of women who are subjugated in the name of marriage and are compelled to live a live dictated by their partner.

            The Tigers Aunt Jennifer creates are given eternal life, a life no man can ever take away into possession in the name of marriage. Even with weak fingers that “flutter” while they struggle with the “wool” and the “ivory needle”, she is able to create the most vivacious triggers ever that seem to be livelier than real tigers. Rich writes in the last 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.” (4)

It seems as if Rich speaks this for every woman who lives subjugated by the man she is married to or the society she is born in. The tremendous inner turmoil of these women surfaces through their work or through their silence. And that expression of indignation and rejection of a world like that seems to possess enough power to destroy such arrangements that do not serve them anymore.

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