An Aunt S Hidden Life Essay, Research Paper
The mid twentieth century American poet Adrienne Rich was a product of a conservative Southern family. Rich s poem, Aunt Jennifer s Tigers clearly reflects this gender struggle, for it is evident that it is a feminist poem in which the poet criticizes the male-dominated world for frightening and oppressing Aunt Jennifer, leaving her no alternative but to create an alternate world of freedom for herself with her sewing. The main theme of Aunt Jennifer s Tigers is to reveal the hidden, vibrant inner life of Aunt Jennifer, as expressed in the content and theme of her tapestry, in sharp contrast to the outer image of the terrified, trapped woman she seems to be due to the social and cultural expectations and demands of her time. With the use of similes, symbols, meter, structure, rhyme, connotation Rich created her poem: Aunt Jennifer s Tigers .
Adrienne Rich uses a number of similes and symbols in the poem to convey her theme. The tigers of course symbolize the freedom of spirit which she dreams of attaining but never achieves except in her dreams and her art. Aunt Jennifer is symbolic of women as a whole rather than one individual. However, Adrienne Rich seems to distance herself from the image of Aunt Jennifer by placing Aunt Jennifer in a separate generation from herself. In addition, the verb prance is also used symbolically in the poem, both in the first stanza of the poem to describe the tigers in Aunt Jennifer s screen, and in the final line of the poem to create a proud, strong image of the tigers; so fittingly symbolic of Aunt Jennifer s dreams and desires for herself.
In terms of the meter, structure, and rhyme of the poem, Aunt Jennifer s Tigers , Adrienne Rich utilizes quatrains, consisting of couplets, for a total of six sentences in twelve lines. The rhyme scheme in the poem is very basic: AABB CCDD EEFF, and the rhythm in the three stanzas of the poem isn t a regular beat but varies from line to line as necessary. The structure of Aunt Jennifer s Tigers consists of the first stanza, which is about the proud tigers, the second stanza, which is about terrified Aunt Jennifer, and the third stanza, which refers first to Aunt Jennifer and then to the tigers. By starting the poem with the tigers and ending with the tigers, the poet is containing the real life within the fantasy life, the reverse of what we know about Aunt Jennifer, whose inner life is in fact contained within her outer life.
Adrienne Rich s connotation involves the use of carefully selected words and phrases to develop the theme of Aunt Jennifer s Tigers. The idea of death is explored at the beginning of the third stanza in showing that even Aunt Jennifer s death will not bring closure nor change to her role in a patriarchal society. Death is eternal and the idea of her terrified hands lying still ringed with the marriage she was burdened with in life reveals to the reader that she is timid, frightened by her inferiority, and condemned forever by the experiences in the marriage that ruled her. This is reflected in the line, Find even the ivory needle hard to pull, in which Rich is presenting the reader with the consequences of living as a subordinate in a marriage that is a burden ultimately the woman will be unhappy, and will remain so until death, which is not a release (|.6). Another example is when Rich uses the tapestry as a way of expressing Aunt Jennifer s inner self. Aunt Jennifer can t escape in her real life because of the massive weight of Uncle s wedding band. (|.7). Although the tigers are above the men, Aunt Jennifer is pinned down, as is evident by the fact that, the band sits heavily on her hand. (|.8).
In essence, she is trapped by both the marriage and the culture that supports the marriage. Furthermore, Aunt Jennifer s hands are terrified, (|.11) overwhelmed by the power that her husband, and society, have over her. She is mastered by her situation, in contrast to the tigers, which flaunt their independence, forever prancing, proud and unafraid. (|.12). It is interesting to note that in the creation of this poem, Adrienne Rich explained that at the time she thought she was creating a poetic portrait of an imaginary woman, only to discover later that Aunt Jennifer was probably very typical of many married women in the United States in the nineteen-fifties. These women, Rich observed, didn t talk to each other much at that time about their secret emptiness or their frustrations, they were such products of the male-dominated world that they didn t even realize that other women might actually feel the same way they did about their confined and limited lives.
In conclusion, today Adrienne Rich is universally recognized as the chief poet of American feminism, but she had neither the public image nor the private identity of a feminist in the conformist nineteen-fifties. Rich s work is loaded with meaning and nicely flowing language, such as in the lines, Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. They do not fear the men beneath the tree; they pace in sleek chivalric certainty. (|.4). Rich s feminist perspective began to emerge naturally in her early poems like Aunt Jennifer s Tigers, as is evident from this analysis of the poem. The poem is a clear statement of the inner conflict in many women, specifically between the impulse to revel in freedom and imagination, as symbolized by Aunt Jennifer s tapestry of prancing tigers; and by the outer reality of the massive weight of gender roles and expectations, signified by Uncle s wedding band. (|.7). Although separated through the use of the third person and a different generation, Aunt Jennifer in her ignorance and Adrienne Rich as a poet each convey the fundamental implications of the division between imagination and duty, and power and passivity. Perhaps the most pivotal aspect of this poem is the image of a wife, beaten by marriage and conquered by the weight of her wedding ring. While Aunt Jennifer s Tigers is certainly not overtly feminist, it encourages a feminist viewpoint, for although Aunt Jennifer was locked in her world, her tigers weren t.