Discuss the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" explaining the purpose of each of the verses.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Adrienne Rich wrote this poem in the 1950s when gender roles were quite different from today.  Women's roles were more confined to the home and raising the children.  For the most part, women were still subservient to the men in the families.  In the poem, "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," the protagonist creates a world that is much happier that the reality in which she lives.

This poem's narration is third person with possibly the niece or nephew of Aunt Jennifer conveying the poignant picture of this troubled lady.  Following a set rhyming scheme, the poem is written in four stanzas with two rhyming couplets per stanza. 

Each stanza serves a particular purpose in the poem's message.  In the first stanza, the reader learns that Aunt Jennifer's is crafting something that artfully displays shiny topaz colored tigers in a jungle of greenery.  Beneath the trees are men marching with noble assurance. Her tigers are proud and free and unafraid. This pretend world has men in it that are taught the chivalric code of courtesy, kindness, and respect for women.

The second verse takes a different tone.  The reader learns that Aunt Jennifer finds herself weighted by her marriage ring given to her by the narrator's uncle. Her wedding ring symbolizes Aunt Jennifer's problems within her marriage.  The poet uses alliteration to give the feel of the aunt's practiced sewing techniques:

Aunt Jennifer's finger fluttering through her wool

Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.

This kind of sewing usually is done for recreation or as a hobby. Despite her expertise in sewing, Aunt Jennifer finds it hard to continue. She is burdened in some aspect with her husband and their relationship. 

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band

Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

The final stanza speaks to what will happen after Aunt Jennifer dies.  Life and her marriage have been terrifying for her.  Death will not give her no respite from these sufferings.  Yet, while Aunt Jennifer lies dead the scene that she made on the panel will continue to have playful and proud tigers that have no fear.

In the real world, Aunt Jennifer learned that it is a world of survival of the fittest or the strongest dominate.  Her art was an escape to a world that she wished that she could find in which to live. Too late, Aunt Jennifer is gone! 

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