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Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
Title– It refers to a tapestry made by aunt Jennifer which contains ferocious, fearless & prancing tigers. It suggests the tiger like terror that her husband was. She was in constant fear of him & felt suffocated in matrimony. Aunt Jennifer is a symbol of the oppressed & tigers are a symbol of the terror & oppression of women by the male dominated world.
Tigers also symbolize the freedom of spirit, fearlessness & confidence which the aunt dreams of but is unable to achieve.
Theme/Central Idea– Male chauvinism, gender conflicts, victimization of women by their male counterparts, lack of freedom & identity in matrimony. Women like the aunt feel the oppression even in the absence of the male & are never able to liberate themselves due to laws & customs. It highlights the desolating effects of patriarchy & the racial & religious injustice & oppression of a woman who can express her desire for freedom only in her art.
a)It shows the fears of the aunt in contrast with the tigers that prowl fearlessly whereas she lives in fear of her husband who is absent from the scene. It shows the freedom of spirit like tigers & males that she dreams of but is unable to achieve.
b) Tigers are called ‘denizens of a world of green’ because they are the natives of the forest which symbolizes the world of the evil & vicious, of male dominance & animal instincts.
c)‘Prancing tigers’ symbolize the spirit of freedom that the aunt has within her, but is subdued & symbolizes her fears of her male counterpart.
d) ‘They pace in sleek chivalric certainty’ shows stealthy, sure, majestic, confident movement of tigers which are sure of their purpose. They move ahead fearless of obstacles to their freedom & the aunt in contrast can’t show her desire for freedom openly.
e) ‘Bright topaz denizens’- Metaphor used to describe the yellow coloured beautiful animals.
f) Repetition of ‘Aunt Jennifer’ & ‘tiger’ creates a scary ambience of the oppressor, oppressed & oppression.
g) Theme of stanza– Criticism of male chauvinism, patriarchy, aunt’s fears & desires, she expresses through her work of art.
h) Qualities of tiger highlighted are fearlessness (don’t fear men under tree), ferocity (prance/prowl for prey), elegance, style (sleek), beauty (bright topaz), undeterred confidence (certainty), chivalry (pace in chivalric certainty).
i) Contrast b/w tigers & aunt- Tigers are fearless, ferocious, not afraid of men waiting to hunt them down, denizens of the wild forest. Aunt is timid, nervous, afraid of male counterpart.
j) What do denizens & chivalric tell about the Tigers’ attitude? – Denizen means animal that lives in a particular place & doesn’t run away fearing others. Chivalric means dignity, honour, confidence. Tigers like males live in the wild, evil forest fearlessly & move around with chivalry.
a) Aunt Jennifer’s fingers are moving about in an agitated & aimless manner through the wool. She is finding even the ivory needle hard to pull.
b) ‘Find even—— pull’- Her struggling with ivory needles suggests the loss of her individual identity & terrorized state of mind under the weight of uncle’s domination.
c) ‘Fingers—- wool’- is an image to highlight the oppression on women. The aunt is so oppressed that her frail fingers are unable to carry the weight of wool.
d) ‘Uncle’s wedding band’ is a symbol of the suppression of women in matrimony by custom, law, male authority. It is symbolic of the male authority & power. Matrimony has bound her physically & mentally. Feelings of implied slavery are brought out along with her physical and psychological terror of her husband even in his absence & loss of freedom & identity which all sum up for the theme of the stanza. Aunt feels the burden of the weight of the wedding band on her hand which is not a source of happiness for her but reminds her of her husband in spite of his absence from the scene. It shows the victimization of women like the aunt.
a) When the aunt is dead, her terrified hands still aren’t free from the ring showing that she is still in the grip of hard & difficult experiences in matrimony which suppressed her. The theme of the stanza is her ordeals in matrimony & the attitude of the society.
b) Even death failed to release her from the chains of her struggle which dominated her lifetime. Her fear outlasts her body & life & her spirit remains scared of her husband. The aunt’s death is symbolic of her complete surrender to her suppression.
c) ‘Ringed with ordeals’ is an image to express the injustice, oppression & struggle that aunt goes through but never complains. No one knows the trauma she had to undergo.
d) ‘Terrified hands’ show that aunt has allowed herself to be imprisoned by her ego & family ideology. Her hands were terrified even after death as the chains of fear & slavery couldn’t be broken by death also.
e) ‘The tigers———unafraid’ shows that since the society is male dominated, it shows no concern for the aunt’s sufferings even after her death. The loss of her freedom is her individual loss. The society is not affected by it. It is symbolic of the dispassionate & unconcerned attitude of the males towards the desire for freedom among women. The tigers representing the male authority remain undeterred. Indifferent to the suppression of women, men like tigers go on prancing fearlessly. The aunt’s art will survive long after her death but the society will remain unaffected, arrogant & ferocious.
f) It is ironical that the aunt dreams of escape in art but produces the very image of her suppression.
Key Points & Questions:
a) The poem is a satire on male chauvinism & victimization of women & dominance of patriarchy.
b) It is a feminist poem which criticizes the male world for terrifying & oppressing women like the aunt & forcing her to create an alternate world of freedom which she inhibits only in her imagination.
c) It is an imaginary world of art to escape from the oppression of married life, male chauvinism & gender inequalities.
d) The poem is written in quatrains (four- lined stanzas) or couplets.
The rhyme scheme is aabbcc.
Q.1) How is the poem a tragedy? –
We don’t know what terrors the aunt had to live with. Terrorized by the male dominated world, she recoils & escapes into her embroidery art (tapestry). She dies and we can’t find a solution to her problem.
Q.2) Where does aunt seek refuge from being victimized by the male world? How does she create an alternate world for herself? Does she find freedom? –
She escapes into the imaginary world of solace and comfort by making a tapestry in which she escapes from harsh realities. She fails to escape from the terrifying power of her husband as she remembers him even in her world of imagination. The tigers go on prancing, proud and unafraid even after her death.
Q.3) What is the aunt terrified of in the poem? –
She is terrified of her husband who is feeling less, domineering, harsh and callous. She is also terrified of the bondage that her marriage has turned out to be.
Q.4) How is the aunt both a victim and an oppressor? –
Victim – She is confined to the prison of her ego and family bondage.
Oppressor – She quietly accepts her slavery and finds outlet in her work of art.
Q.5) Bring out the significance of the word ‘ringed’. –
Pun is used. It refers to the wedding ring which binds husband and wife into matrimony forever, but it has suffocated her like a band. In the third stanza along with ‘mastered by’. It shows the image of a circus ring where it stands for marriage, uncle as the ringmaster and aunt as the tame animal who is beaten up. She has lost her identity and freedom.