What is the symbolic analysis of "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers"?

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

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This is an excellent poem that is symbolically all about the endurance of art and the oppression suffered by women in marriage. The first stanza of the poem begins by describing the tigers that Aunt Jennifer sews. Note how they are described:

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

The tigers are fearless, in particularly not fearing the "men" in their world, and they have a majesty and "certainty." This is of course a massive contrast to the world of Aunt Jennifer, who is described in the second stanza as being weighted down by the "massive weight of Uncle's wedding band" that "sits heavily" on her hand, making it difficult to sew. The symbolic significance of this "wedding band" is the oppression of women in marriage. As the last stanza makes clear, this oppression is something that Aunt Jennifer will never be free from. Her art, however, is something that will endure through the ages:

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

There is perhaps a subtle irony in the symbolism of this poem. Aunt Jennifer can only create such figures as the tigers through her art and in her imagination, as they symbolically represent the kind of freedom that she can never experience or attain through the "ordeals" that have "mastered" her--her marriage. Yet, at the end of the day, it is her tigers, the product of her imagination and art, that live on, leaving their creator to die in her oppressed state.

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