Analysis of a Poem: Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich is a beautifully written poem having excellent rhyming scheme and stunning imagery. Beyond Rich’s beautiful images and perfect wording, she forthrightly expresses dark and significant truth, the ordeal that women go through in conventional marriage. Rich skillfully uses her poem to confront oppression of women and the deep need of liberation of women from a world dominated by men. She uses third-person narrative to eloquently voice the poem and set he self apart from the main character, Aunt Jennifer. In analyzing the poem, this essay explores how Rich utilizes various literary skills to voice the oppression of Aunt Jennifer through traditional marriage as the prevailing theme of her poem. In addition, the essay focuses on how utilization of embroidery allowed the writer to reveal how much the women in the society were craving for freedom from their domineering male counterparts.

The first stanza of the poem begins with a description of Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers, and are said to “prance across a screen”. The tigers seem to move in a fashion that is lovely and perhaps in an arrogant manner. The speaker describes the tigers as “topaz denizens of a world of green”, probably to refer to tigers’ strength and impenetrability. Clearly, the tigers are not afraid of “the men beneath the tree” an expression which implies that these tigers are aware of the power they have (SFGate 1). Although the tigers seem not to fear the men under the tree, their movement seems to be confined to the top of the tree by the presence of men below the tree. This is suggested by the pacing of their movement in the last line of the first stanza as opposed the prancing movement in the first line of the same stanza.

Stanza two of “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” focuses on Aunt Jennifer’s needlework. Her fingers are said to be “fluttering through her wool” as she concentrates on her stitching work. On one hand, the “fluttering” could refer to the graceful movement of Aunt Jennifer’s fingers as she goes about her work (SFGate 1). On the other hand, the speaker could have used the term to express the agitation that was rising within Aunt Jennifer. The latter thought seems to be more appropriate in this case because, in her observation, the writer submits that Aunt Jennifer has difficulty in pulling the needle as she goes about her work.

Stanza two is structured in such a manner that the reader is likely to believe that Aunt Jennifer’s nervousness is as a result of Uncle’s oppressive behavior. The wedding ring Uncle gave Aunt Jennifer “sits heavily upon” her hands (SFGate 1). Literally, the ring is said to be heavy but this cannot be true to an extent that it hampers Aunt Jenifer’s ability to stitch. Rather, the use of the ring by Rich is symbolic. She uses the heavy weight of the ring to express the violent, oppressive, severe or demanding nature of Uncle towards Aunt Jennifer. The behavior of Uncle towards Aunt Jennifer affects her emotional state and this is displayed through physical signs of agitation.

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The speaker sets apart the third stanza to describe how matters will be, following the death of Aunt Jennifer. The speaker notes that the “terrified hands” of Aunt Jennifer will “still be ringed with the ordeals she was mastered by” during her lifetime (SFGate 1). The speaker seems to use the word “ringed” in this stanza to refer back to the Uncle’s wedding band. The speaker is trying to make the reader understand the master who put Aunt Jennifer go through much ordeals is Uncle. He “mastered” Aunt Jennifer and left her “terrified”.

Aunt Jennifer carefully uses the tigers to paint the picture of how a society should be comfortable to live in and the character she wished to have. In the last line of the first stanza, the speaker notes that the tigers “pace in sleek chivalric certainty” (SFGate 1). The poet could have used the phrase to depict that the tigers are attractive in addition to the fact that they are considerate towards women. The tigers depicted on the screen appear masculine, yet they seem to have qualities of men who are honorable as opposed to the Uncle.

Naturally, ivory comes from animals that are normally mastered and even destroyed by men. Probably, this explains why in her creations, Aunt Jennifer chose to utilize ivory needles just to express the oppression women undergo in the hands of men (Hub-Pages, 1). From the writer’s choice of terms, it is clear that the mastery behavior of Uncle dominates Aunt Jennifer and causes her much anxiety. Of course, the wedding ring is synonymous to the oppressive Uncle, but the use of wool symbolizes another aspect of the marriage between Uncle and Aunt Jennifer. It is from sheep that we obtain wool and the term sheep is normally used to refer to people who are either traditional or conventional. Perhaps Jennifer seems to blame herself of having gotten into a marriage because it is a tradition rather than a necessity.

Aunt Jennifer uses the tigers to express of her belief of what an ideal marriage as well as an ideal man ought to be (Hub-Pages 1). Despite having found herself in a marriage she did not approve of, Aunt Jennifer seemed to have realized that she cannot free herself and will have to endure the ordeal until her death. Trapped within an oppressive marriage, she resorts to needle work to enable her express her desires. Since she cannot confront her troubles, she uses the art of sewing to escape from them. She escapes to the jungle and creates tigers on the screen. The tigers created by Aunt Jennifer are seen to be glorious; they maintain the strength as well as assertiveness. Ironically, Aunt Jennifer herself lacks the qualities that she paints on the tigers; she is fearful and appears to be nervous whenever she feels the presence of Uncle. In the jungle, a world of green, the tigers appear to be demanding something from the men who seem to be interested in conquering their territory.

Even after the death of Aunt Jennifer, the speaker notes that the “prancing” of her tigers will continue. Regrettably, she deeply expresses the strength she wishes she had possessed but will not have till her death (Hub-Pages 1). Despite her regrets and impending death, the fact that her creation continues to exist even after her death makes the poem quite visionary. The speaker utilizes the prancing of the tigers to symbolize freedom thereby enabling the reader to have a glimpse of what lies in Aunt Jennifer’s subconscious. Repetition of the prance in the poem enabled the poet to emphasize on the freedom of the tigers. The animals she utilizes do not allow themselves to be victimized at any point by anyone. She is foreseeing a time when the society would find womankind equal and parallel opportunities to enable them progress without much hindrance from the social male constraints.


Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger is indeed a well constructed literary work. It gives a clear picture of the ideas that Rich was preoccupied with. She appears to have been giving an awakening call to the entire society with the message of women’s liberation. She clearly expressed that the long gone ought to have been the days of living in a male-dominated society. She strongly felt that women’s freedom was beckoning and nothing could stop it.

Works Cited

Hub-Pages. An Analysis of Adrienne Rich’s “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, 2013. Web. October 1, 2013. Available at
Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich, 2013. Web. October 1, 2013. Available at

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