Compare and contrast the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" with the short story "The Secret Lion."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Initially, a cursory examination of both of these texts seem to yield few similarities. One is a short story about growing up and exchanging the innocence and childlike understanding of the world for the more complex adult perspective on life. The other is clearly a feminist poem that explores the dichotomy between art and life through the presentation of Aunt Jennifer, who is so restricted in her marriage she can only express herself through art and the medium of her embroidery.

Yet one comparison that can be usefully made between these two texts is their reliance on symbolism to communicate their message. In "The Secret Lion," for example, symbolism is key to exploring the coming-of-age of its protagonists. One of the central symbols in this tale is the river, which begins as a kind of haven for the boys:

It was our river, though, our personal Mississippi, our friend from long back, and it was full of stories.

Yet as these boys grow up, their view of the river changes, and they finally realise that it is just a river polluted by sewage. This of course becomes a powerful symbol for the way that children view the world in their innocence and imagination, and how this is exchanged for perhaps a more realistic but ultimately more sober view of the world in adulthood.

In the same way, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" uses symbolism to present its theme of the way that marriage can restrict and impede the identity of women. Note how the ring is referred to in the following quote:

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

The "massive weight" of the ring impedes her ability to sew and therefore can be taken as a symbol of the way that the patriarchal institution of marriage is an impediment to Aunt Jennifer's own artistic expression of who she is and her self. The ring, described through the hyperbole of its "massive weight," is therefore used as a powerful symbol of the way that marriage can enslave and inhibit.


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