Aunt Jennifer's Tigers
by Adrienne Rich
No, Aunt Jennifer is not a phlebotomist (you know, those wonderful folks who take blood from you at the hospital). When we say "needlework," we mean the stitching, or crocheting, or sewing that Aunt J does to create her compelling tapestry. Any time you come across an act of creation in a piece of literature, your antennae should perk up. In this case, Aunt J is engaged in a creative process, much like Rich was when she wrote this poem. Both ladies have created something of value. Aunt Jennifer's tigers are made all the more impressive because she creates them in spite of her oppressive circumstances. They are a testament to her creative spirit, and her needlework symbolizes the power of art in overcoming, or at least outlasting, repression.
- Line 1: We're alerted from the get-go to the vitality of Aunt Jennifer's creation, which "prance across the screen." She injects (get it? needles? inject?) her work with a triumphant vitality.
- Lines 5-6: We know that sewing sounds like a laugh riot, but it's not all fun and games—at least for poor Aunt J. She's having difficulty in performing her craft.
- Lines 7-8: Who's to blame for her trouble? Well, it could have something to do with that gigantic ring that she's got on. Of course, it's not really a cartoon-sized piece of jewelry. The ring here is a symbol of the oppression that Aunt J must overcome in order to express herself through her creation.
- Lines 11-12: Despite her struggles, Aunt Jennifer's creations will surpass her own troubled life. In that way, she's achieved a kind of triumph—over death, over repression. Her craft allows her to create something that will remain a testament to her spirit, long after she's gone.