Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich: Summary and Analysis

The speaker describes the tigers which her aunt produced by using colored threads on heavy cloth. They are set in motion. They are moving quickly by raising the front legs and jumping forwards on the back legs. In the green jungle they look bright yellow and as valuable as topazes which reveals her dream of a happier life in her needle work.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

There are men sitting under the tree, but the tigers do not care for them. They move on to their goal boldly and smoothly. Jennifer finds it difficult to make pictures by using the ivory needle. She is tired of doing the household work after she got married. She can’t get herself involved in her artistic work. She has to do it in her leisure time. Even then she has to be sure whether her husband is watching her or not. So her hands are terrified. She will not be free from fear until she dies. She will be dominated by her husband. She will die, but her art will express her desire to move proudly and fearlessly like the tigers she has made.

Aunt Jennifer's hands are 'terrified' because of the massive weight of household duties. They are heavily pressed. They have undergone severe trials. She is dominated by her husband continuously. ‘Fingers fluttering’, ‘ordeals’, ‘mastered’, ‘hard to pull’ indicate her fear. By mentioning that it is ‘Uncle’s wedding band’, the poet suggests that Uncle owns Jennifer too and that as a female she is the property of her husband. The word ‘massive’ and ‘heavily’ suggest Aunt Jennifer lives a demanding sort of life in which she has to attend to her husband’s needs and fulfill his commands. As a result she is somewhat worn out in her old age. Aunt Jennifer is ‘ringed’, trapped in her marriage and controlled like an animal. Her husband is her master.  Her wish to be like the tiger, ‘proud and unafraid’ also shows her fear in real life. Tigers are fierce, courageous and independent animals. They lead the life the way they want to. But Aunt Jennifer is just opposite to tigers. She is quiet, coward, and totally dependent on her husband. She leads her life the way her husband likes for her. So tigers are an appropriate contrast to her.

Aunt Jennifer has an artistic talent. If she used it properly, she will surely become a great artist. But she has misused her ability because of cowardice. She can’t go against the established pattern in life. She is pressed by ‘the massive weight’ of household work. Instead of pleasing herself, she tries to please her dominating husband. She lives a quiet and subdued life. But the tigers she imagined are just opposite to her. They are proud, active, fearless, determined and chivalric. They move toward their goals with single-mindedness.

The tigers in the poem represent Jennifer’s innermost desire. She wants to be strong like the tigers that do not fear the men. Like the beautiful animals in the jungle, she wants to create precious pieces of art. Her life has been uncertain, helpless. Her husband is strong and fearless, but he is not chivalrous. So she finds courage, justice and honor in the smooth movement of the tigers. Thus the tiger stand for her unfulfilled wishes. She can’t revolt against him on her own. In order to gain freedom she must be like her tigers that prance being proud and unafraid. Like them she wished if she did not fear the men. The word ‘chivalric’ suggests her inner wish that is, her husband should show bravery, honor, generosity, and good manners to her like the knights in the Middle Ages did. She would like to go forward toward her aim like the determined tigers.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers by Adrienne Rich: Summary and Critical Analysis" BachelorandMaster, 19 Oct. 2013,