“Aunt inequality of power between women and men. She

“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” by
Adrienne Rich

Women’s issue affects everyone not
just the women, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”
a great poem written by Adrienne Rich, explains it. This poem was written in
1951 when women doesn’t have much liberty and equality.

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On May 16, 1929 in Baltimore, MD.,
the great U.S. Poet, critic and scholar named Adrienne Cecile Rich was born.
Her father, Arnold Rice Rich, a pathologist and her mother, Helen Elizabeth
Jones Rich, was a gifted pianist. Adrienne and Cynthia, both were home schooled
until Adrienne, was nine. Both girls read widely when they were home schooling,
especially classics. Adrienne began writing at very young age to satisfy her
dad Arnold, as he valued formal and traditional poetry. She got an inspiration
of reading from her father’s library when they were homeschooling.

Rich graduated in 1951 with a B.A. in English and
the same year, her first book of poetry A Change of World, this
collection featured “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” was chosen by W. H.
Auden as the winner of
the prestigious 1951 Yale Younger Poets Competition. Rich married to Alfred H.
Conrad in 1953. He was a Jewish economics professor at Harvard without her parent’s
approval and for that reason her parents didn’t attend her wedding. Rich
settled with her husband in their summer home in Vermont. She became mother of
three sons. After publishing her second book she did not publish anything for
eight years because she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of her house and
her troubled marriage. She was feeling little guilty and depresses. She had
expressed her feelings and conflict between men and women in her poems. She was
very active feminist and her married life was also unbalanced due to her being
a lesbian.

Rich’s family had genetic issue of rheumatoid
arthritis and from which she also suffered, she even had multiple surgeries.
She wrote about her illness very rarely. She mentioned about her pain in one of
her autobiographical book Your Native Land, Your
Life (1986). Rich was also becoming more political active when
she moved to New York in 1966 and she deepened her attention to oppression and
violence. As a poet and activist, she became very involved in the civil rights
movement, adult education, women’s liberation and the antiwar movement.

Rich was so tired of her marriage that she
finally decided to leave her husband in 1970. He committed suicide later that
year. Rich was very active socially and she also examined the social issues and
the inequality of power between women and men. She came out with her poetry
collection Diving into
the Wreck, in 1973. Rich’s poem shows her passion about the
lesbian/feminist aesthetic and her involvement with women’s movement. In 1976, Rich published an essay
collection, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution,
which provided the great voice for women’s issues surrounding their marriage
and family.

Rich taught at
many colleges and universities during her lifetime and she also received
numerous honorary degrees. She received almost every honor and award available
to poets, including: National Institute of Arts and
Letters award, Shelly Award from the Poetry Society of America, Los
Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry, Frost Medal, Wallace Stevens
Award, Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, Commonwealth Award, National Book
Award, Dorothea Tanning Prize of the Academy of American Poets, and in 1994 a
MacArthur “genius” award. (Kaplan)

“Aunt Jennifer’s
Tigers” corresponds women’s issues. This
poem is not meant only for women but its for all of us. Rich wrote this poem in
1951 and that era was not woman friendly, where there was not much options for women
for their career and their dreams. These twelve lines of well written poem
tells story about women from that era.  After
reading the poem one can get an idea of gender bias, women inequality and pain
during that time.

In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”, written by Adrienne
Cecile Rich, analyzes her aunt as very fearful, weak and trapped women by
describing her “terrified” (9) and “ringed” (10). It’s very well pictured in
the poem that the Aunt Jennifer gets her fear out by doing sewing the tiger on
the screen. Harriet Davidson, the author of the “Adrienne (Cecile) Rich” also
agrees with the poet, “As the fingers that metonymically represent Aunt
Jennifer’s desires remain bounded by the wedding ring” (Davidson 17). It is
very well pictured that the Aunt Jennifer is heavily burden by her marriage and
she don’t have liberty to express herself. 

The poem Aunt
Jennifer’s Tigers is an intense poem with a strong feminist message and not so
happy theme probably trying to show her constraints in her marriage. “Aunt
Jennifer’s Tigers is consists of three stanzas with four lines each. Each
stanza has different tone and meaning following from the previous one.

First
stanza of the poet conveys the image of a vibrant colored tigers living in a
rich green landscape. These tigers, as poet sees them, are living life of as
royal as king and majesty as one would expect of tigers in the wild. They represent how
she want to be, strong and independent. She shows her own fair and resilient
against her marriage is indicated in the last line of 1 stanza.

     “They do not fear the men beneath the tree;”

Last
line of first stanza changes the tone of the poem. This line foreshadows two
things; the message of the poem and the underlying source of pain in Aunt
Jennifer’s life. The main idea of this poem is Aunt Jennifer’s struggling with
dealing with men in both professional and personal lives during the era pretty
much male dominated.

The
pain and the struggle are more visible for the reader in the second stanza. Life has been so
harsh for her after marriage that she has become a wreck. Her life after
marriage has been so hard for her that she feels she is trapped inside herself.
The refence to “Uncle’s Wedding Band” that “sits heavily”
on her hand is to indicate that the chores, duties, and responsibilities of
marriage have been tough on her. She is not being able to show her true
potential nor she is allowed to do things she wants too. She describes her
physical and emotional break down in the lines, ”

   
“Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool

     “Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.”

The
second lines represent her struggle to pull out of the male dominated society
or rather her own marriage and be strong, but it is not easy. The poet mentioning
the wedding band on Aunt Jennifer’s finger is a burdensome weight, a hint that
her husband is making her life miserable, as the ring is defined as a
“massive weight.” She was, at the time she wrote the poem, was living
in the era of a purely male dominated society, where women were supposed to do
house chores and stay home. They didn’t have much liberty to do things outside
her home without her husband’s permission. In her actual personal life, she had
to give up her writing and her professional life because of her married life
which made her very bitter towards her marriage and society as a whole.

In
the final stanza of the poem, she shows her struggle and her troubles in her
married life even when she is dead. Aunt Jennifer
has some true fear of something to be terrified even when she died. Speaker is
referring to the wedding ring by using the word “ringed”. She is referring to
the Uncle or husband of speaker’s aunt who seems to be the master who put
Jennifer through ordeals and leaving her terrified. Perhaps he was the reason
for all her fear, worry, and consternation in her unhappy life. But
there is a hope as was shown in the lines;

“The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid”

            The
above lines show hope. Even though Aunt Jennifer wasn’t happy in her life nor
was able to achieve what she wanted. The tiger represents what she wants to
achieve in her life and want herself doing. In her imagination, she is making
her tiger strong and unafraid from anyone.

            Aunt Jennifer’s poem was criticized by many male critique
for being very feminist as they didn’t expect it, especially in the male
dominated society. Randell Jerrell, for example, called her ” princess in a
fairy tale” as she was imagining being free and powerful in a society where, at
the time, male were dominating every aspect. But some, especially female critique
appreciated her imagination and her wanting to be free from the burden of
society. Deborah Pop views her poem as an “even clearer statement of conflict
in women, specifically between the impulse to freedom and imagination (her
tapestry of prancing tigers) and the “massive weight” of gender roles
and expectations, signified by “Uncle’s wedding band.”

            Thomas B Byers, as oppose to Deborah Pope, sees her poem
as though she is submitting to the male dominated society as he wrote” Her
tigers are only Lancelots, attractive because illicit, but finally seducing her
to another submission to the male”. His interpretation of her poem was more like
seeing that even thought she wanted to be out and free but her using the props
like tiger, which represent the masculine figure, is to show that she still
need the male dominance on her.

Rich
was a feminist, a warrior and a very strong will woman. She was a great writer
until she got married, which changed her life. She felt as if she was brought
down and wasn’t given much space. She was fighting the male dominate society and
I think was more afraid of her husband than anyone. She wasn’t given much of
room to do anything. She was busy with stuff like house chores and child
bearing, which was a very common thing expected form the woman of that era,
than what she wanted, which had killed her inside out. Her poems are just a way
out for her to let her thoughts and her dream to come alive and to enjoy or just
imagine being in it.