In the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" by Adrienne Rich, what do the tigers represent?  

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Adrienne Rich’s interesting poem “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” reflects a theme that the poem supports avidly---women’s rights. Women’s issues impact all people not just women.  If one has a mother, sister, aunt---then it affects him.

The poem addresses abusive relationships.  Its subtlety with the almost humorous title draws the reader into a situation for which he/she is unprepared.

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer sews on a tapestry which has beautiful topaz tigers cavorting across the top of the material.  The tigers' strength shows that they are fearless and free.  There are men below the tigers that the cats ignore.  They appear to have no fear of the hunters. 

The symbolism of the scene indicates that the men could hurt the tigers with their weapons; however, the tigers show disdain for the men. They are free.

What about Aunt Jennifer who sewed the tigers? She is less self-composed.  Her fingers flutter or are agitated  as she sews and even finds it hard to work her needle.  The answer becomes clear when the poet with deadly imagery lets the reader know it is the symbolic wedding band that Aunt Jennifer wears that influences her composure.   

What does the symbolism mean? The uncle creates a situation that is fearful; from it, the weight of her marriage crushes Aunt Jennifer’s spirit. The ring sitting heavily on her hand portrays a stark image which encourages the reader’s imagination to work over time. Unlike her tigers, she is not free.

Yet, in the next stanza, the poet predicts that Aunt Jennifer’s hands that were so frightened will still have the horrific events that she endures wrapped around her hands with the ring that she is forced to wear. Her master [the uncle or the husband] defeats her.

The tigers will still go on infinite.  They will romp across her needlework without any fear and with nobility. Unlike Aunt Jennifer, they do not fear the men below who watch and wonder about the tigers above. When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
bearing the weight of the abuse of her spouse.

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