Aunt Jennifer's Tigers
by Adrienne Rich
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
- In the previous stanza, we've heard a whole lot about those awesome tigers. Now, here comes more info on Aunt Jennifer.
- The first image of this stanza is of Aunt Jennifer's hands "fluttering" as she works on her wool. "Fluttering" is a verb often used to describe birds. Aunt Jennifer's hands move swiftly and daintily—maybe even nervously?—through the air. This contrasts with the tigers, who pace "in chivalric certainty." The movement of the tigers is definitive, while Aunt Jennifer's movements are less so.
- And we soon find out that Aunt J is struggling. It's hard for her to pull the needle through the wool that makes the tapestry. So, we have her at work sewing something, but she's not very certain of her work and it seems to be giving her difficulty.
- Let's go back to line 1 for a hot second. This is probably not a TV we're dealing with. If Aunt Jennifer is sewing, then "screen" might mean some kind of tapestry or quilt.
- We often think of needlework like as a diversion, as something fun for little old ladies to do. But in the poem, Aunt Jennifer's needlework seems like actual work, or labor.
- We have a really distinct contrast, then, between Aunt Jennifer's tigers, who are brave and stately, and Aunt Jennifer herself, who struggles with her craft.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
- Now we find out why Aunt Jennifer struggles with the needle. She is being weighed down by her wedding band from her husband, called "Uncle" by the poem.
- Symbol alert! Is Aunt Jennifer literally being dragged down by a gold band? We're going to go ahead and say: no, not at all. The wedding band is acting as a symbol for Aunt and Uncle's marriage itself.
- Need another great literary term? Sure you do. By representing marriage with just the wedding band, Rich is employing metonymy, or representing something by using an object that's associated with it (like saying "the White House" when meaning the president).
- And, let's look carefully at the language. The wedding band is "Uncle's wedding band." Even though Aunt J herself wears it, the speaker still describes it as belonging to her uncle; it's not "Aunt Jennifer's wedding band." Aunt J's property is defined by her relationship with her husband, and it's starting to seem like Aunt J is as well.
- We don't have too many details yet, but this does not sound like a happy or fulfilling marriage to us. Aunt Jennifer is defined by her husband, and the symbolic "massive weight" of the wedding band is holding her back from her needlework. Not good.
- Let's pause here for a moment and think about the needlework itself. Needlepoint, sewing, crocheting—these are all historically feminized types of craftwork, often considered as "lower" art forms than painting and sculpture. It's interesting, then, that Aunt Jennifer is stalled even in her needlework—an area of life where we might expect that she could express her feminine self. The only thing Aunt J seems to have in this poem is her needlework, and she even struggles with that because of the weight of her marriage. Sheesh.
- Once again, we can compare Aunt J to her tigers. The tigers are prancing and pacing bravely, while she is sadly weighed down by a wedding band.
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