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

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Adrienne Rich uses several symbols in the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers." The tigers, the men beneath the tree, the needle, the wedding band, and Aunt Jennifer's hands are all symbolic. Here is a brief explanation of each symbol.

The tigers represent Aunt Jennifer's creativity, her free spirit, and...

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Adrienne Rich uses several symbols in the poem "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers." The tigers, the men beneath the tree, the needle, the wedding band, and Aunt Jennifer's hands are all symbolic. Here is a brief explanation of each symbol.

The tigers represent Aunt Jennifer's creativity, her free spirit, and perhaps her desire to be powerful and unfettered. They are created by the Aunt's artistic imagination and skillful techniques, so they represent her talent. They wander proudly past the men without fearing them, showing the courage and independence the Aunt wishes she had.

The men represent a male-dominated society that the Aunt finds herself subjected to. As described later, she feels burdened by her role; she does not have the strength or power to walk with "certainty" before the men in her world.

The wedding band is the most important symbol in determining the meaning of the poem. The fact that the ring is described as "Uncle's" and not hers, that it has "massive weight," and that it "sits heavily" all point to the band as a symbol of the Aunt's oppression in her marriage.

The needle represents both the beauty and the difficulty of being an artist. Creating the works that the Aunt created was not easy for her, especially with "Uncle's wedding band" weighing her down.

The Aunt's hands stand for Aunt Jennifer and the life she lived. They are described as "terrified" and as having been "mastered" by "ordeals." Even though they created beauty, it was not easy, and she was oppressed by the male-dominated society and her husband.

In her short poem, Rich incorporates many symbols that give the work depth and power.

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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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