Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by American feminist poet Adrienne Rich that tells the symbolic story of a woman who knitted the beautiful pictures of tigers that climbed a tree.

Important – Aunt Jennifer = Adrienne Rich
  • Both of them are sufferers. Aunt suffers under her husband. She has no freedom to knit.
  • Both of them are creators. Aunt Jennifer creates tigers.
  • Both of them are successful posthumously, I mean, after their death. Aunt Jennifer’s tigers will be still moving, fearlessly.
  • Adrienne Rich wrote poems to liberate American women from male domination.
  • Aunt Jennifer knitted tigers on her canvas.
  • Rich faced difficulties, criticisms, rebukes and pain for writing poems meant to liberate women while Aunt had to struggle a lot to knit her tigers.
  • Rich’s struggles were all due to the sheer fact that she was a woman, wife and therefore meant to be a slave of the male dominated society.
  • But Adrienne Rich was not an easy prey. In spite of all social setups and beliefs, she fought for a new America where no more woman will be a slave.
  • Here you may ask some very vital questions – Who are these tigers? Are they male symbols? If they are male, why did Aunt Jennifer create them so passionately? If they are females, what are the feminine characteristics of a tiger?

Important – Symbolism

  • Aunt Jennifer is a parallel character who represents the poet Adrienne Rich, her attempts to liberate the women folk from male domination, her struggles and ordeals, and finally, her victory.
  • Like Aunt Jennifer who knitted tigers with wool and needle, Adrienne Rich knitted a new America inhabited by brave women. However, while knitting her tigers, Aunt Jennifer had to face difficulties because she wore a heavy wedding band imposed upon her by her husband. Similar was Rich’s experience. She too had to face harsh attacks from her society for writing poems against the existing male domination.
  • Aunt Jennifer never had a time free from ordeals. She was constantly haunted by her fear of the wedding band. Similarly did Rich have to live till her death. Unfortunately the male ruled her even after her death as she still had to bear her husband’s name even in her grave. The two women had similar life and death and pains and failure at death but what they left behind them was a brave generation. Aunt Jennifer left behind her a number of fearless tigers while Rich had new generation of brave women to succeed her.

Opening – Aunt is Busy Knitting

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.

Meaning

  • Aunt Jennifer’s tigers – Tigers knitted by a lady
  • Prance – Jump upward.
  • Screen – Panel; Canvas.
  • Topaz – A precious yellow stone.
  • Denizens – Animals that live in dens. Citizens Vs Denizens
  • World of green – Jungle
  • Men beneath the tree – Hunters. (Here, men)
  • Tree – Society. In the past women occupied the lower branches.
  • Pace – Move freely
  • Sleek – Elegant; Characteristic of feminine movement
  • Chivalric – Brave and submissive
  • Certainty – Confidence
Questions & Answers
  1. Why are the tigers called ‘Aunt Jennifer’s tigers?’
    The tigers are knitted by Aunt Jennifer and therefore they belong to Aunt Jennifer and they behave fearlessly just as Aunt Jennifer had taught them. Moreover, they are different from other tigers.
  2. Where do the tigers prance to?
    The tigers prance up to the higher branches of tress in a wild green forest that is drawn on a panel or canvas.
  3. What is topaz? How is it descriptive to the tiger?
    Topaz is a kind of precious yellow stone. The yellow color signifies the bright yellow fur of the tiger. The feminine beauty of the tiger is well represented by the ornate topaz color and the black stripes running through it.
  4. How are Aunt Jennifer and her tigers the indicators of the poet’s own life?
    Adrienne Rich’s life and poems were dedicated to the freedom of the suppressed American women. Aunt Jennifer is no one else than Adrienne Rich while her tigers are the new generation of American women.
  5. Who are they in these lines?
    They are the tigers of Aunt Jennifer on the panels.
  6. Why don’t they fear men beneath the tree?
    Aunt Jennifer’s tigers are fearless and confident. They have chivalrous qualities and therefore they do not fear men.
  7. Explain, ‘sleek chivalric certainty.’ What makes the tigers pace in sleek chivalric certainty?
    Sleek, chivalric and certainty are the three qualities of the tigers knitted by Aunt Jennifer. Sleek indicates the elegance of their movement while chivalric and certainty are fearlessness and confidence respectively. As the tigers have overcome the fear of men beneath the tree, they pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
  8. What do you mean by the certainty that the tigers possess?
    The tigers used to fear the men. But once they were made by Aunt Jennifer, they learnt courage. In their new birth these tigers feel at ease and confident. Now they do not have to run away from anyone. They move slowly. They run ferociously.

Next – Aunt’s Ordeals/struggles

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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