What aspects of Adrienne Rich's poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" can be seen as ironic?

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Adrienne Rich’s poem “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” can be perceived as being ironic in a number of different ways, some of those ways even (ironically) conflicting.  Among the possible ironies of the poem are the following:

  • The tigers that Aunt Jennifer creates through her needlework are traditional symbols of masculine power, yet they “prance,” making them sound stereotypically feminine and almost similar to domestic cats.
  • The tigers seem to move energetically (to “prance”), yet in fact they are, of course, perfectly still.
  • The tigers do not fear men, but there is a sense in which this is not true of their creator, Aunt Jennifer, especially since the speaker notes that

The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

  • Yet the tigers, ironically, in the most realistic sense, neither fear nor even feel anything, since they are literally incapable of feeling.
  • Ironically, Aunt Jennifer’s fingers flutter (and thus seem dexterous), yet they “Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.”
  • Ironically, Aunt Jennifer seems to live a stereotypically calm, placid, thoroughly familiar and domestic life, yet she creates art work set in exotic jungle locations – places of wildness and power.
  • Although Aunt Jennifer uses her hands to create symbols of enormous power, her own hands are later described as “terrified.”
  • Although Aunt Jennifer, by creating tigers, creates symbols of great vitality, she herself will someday die.
  • Ironically, after Aunt Jennifer herself is dead, her artwork will in a sense continue to exist with none of its vitality diminished.
  • The tigers can be seen as symbols of the kind of powerful life that Aunt Jennifer herself was never able to live.
  • On the other hand, the tigers can be seen as symbols of the artistic power that survives her even after she herself is dead.


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