Study Guide

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers Women and Femininity

By Adrienne Rich

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Women and Femininity

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen, (1)

The poem begins in a moment of strength. The tigers belong to Aunt J, and they actively prance across her tapestry.

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. (5-6)

Here, Aunt J seems like the opposite of her tigers. It's hard for her to do her needlework, which is not exactly a difficult feat! She's also "fluttering," which seems weak compared to her brave, chivalric tigers.

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand. (7-8)

Here we find out why it's hard for her to do her needlework. Aunt J is being held down by the (symbolic) weight of "Uncle's wedding band." She's wearing the band, but it's not even hers—it's "Uncle's." Aunt Jennifer is controlled and held back from her life by this "massive weight"—by the weight of her marriage. In short: bad times.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. (9-10)

The speaker imagines that, even in death, Aunt J will be controlled (and terrified) by her marriage, by the "ordeals" that "mastered" her life. Aunt Jennifer is in a passive position here, as if she's being manipulated by her husband even in her death. Sheesh. Can an aunt catch a break?

The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid. (11-12)

Now that's better! These final lines provide an alternate, happier outlook on Aunt Jennifer's future. Even in death, she may be constrained by her husband, but her tigers can prance on "proud and unafraid." Aunt J thus is able to construct a different, imagined life for herself in art. Art is where she, as a woman, can exert control.

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