In order to do this literary project, we were looking for different articles from reliable sources in order to find out information about Women’s Liberation Movement and about the writer that we have chosen, Adrienne Rich. We have found incredible points of view from some scholars who have helped us to analyse and understand the life of the poet. It has helped us to interpret her poem: ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’. Analysing each stanza, we have learned deep information about Rich, the movement…that if it were not for the articles, we would not have been able to interpret them at first sight. Furthermore, we have learned about the movement where she belonged, Women’s liberation movement, and how it was depicted when she was living. We have comprehended how important poetry and essays were as they were means of communication and expressing ideals between women. I have read and learned from other writes and scholars in order to analyse Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers. Those scholars are for example Sarah Cook or Dhanya G. All articles were reflecting in different ways the same idea so it was difficult to find so many opinions as we would have liked to read.
In this research we will see who Adrienne Rich was and what did she had to do with the Women’s Liberation Movement. This essay is going to deal with issues of that movement and with how she reflected them into her poetry. Her biography will be presented and also, some of her most famous works. We will analyse Aunt Jennifer’s tigers written in 1951 and we will give a conclusion about this project.
In order to learn about Adrienne Rich’s poems and the movement where she belonged, we should look through who she was and what were her thoughts. Focusing on her biography, we can acknowledge that she was born in 16th of May in 1929, in Baltimore, Maryland. She got married with Alfred Conrad in 1953, but after he had committed suicide, Rich come out as a lesbian and began to live with her partner during the 1980s. In that moment she felt freer, so Rich started to be more concerned about feminist and lesbianism movements. She defended her works and her ‘lesbianism’: What does it mean, for example, that my own work can be respectfully quoted and discussed in academic classrooms and in articles without acknowledging that it is the work of a lesbian, where lesbians are never mentioned (75).
Adrienne suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis which required several surgeries, that were most of the time painful, there are only few references about that in her poetry as she wanted to focus on women themes. This shows how strong she was and how she focused in important social issues.
Adrienne Rich was an intellectual of the twentieth century. She was a poet, a critic and a scholar of high reputation. She won the Yale Younger Poets Prize because of her first published book of poetry, A Change of World (1951) a collection in which Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger was included. This poem was written in 1951 a time in which, according to Dhanya G, ‘there were much fewer options for women in terms of careers and family planning. Women were not financially independent’ (75). In that time women had to struggle alone, some of them remembered how ‘painfully giving up their dreams and passions, but most of the younger women no longer even thought about them’ (75). Anne Rich ‘examines women ‘s allotted positions in American society’ (75) she focuses in their lives and what could she do to reflect that in her poems. She defined herself as a ‘a writer, a teacher, an editor-publisher, a pamphleteer, a lecturer, a sometimes-activist. Before and throughout, I have been a poet’ but she focused more in the politic activism (34).
She learned to write by copying poems such as William Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” a poem that inspired and which influenced her poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’.At age six she wrote a fifty-page about the Trojan War, which one of her parents typed. Another composition when she was little is the imagined diary of a stone-age woman who complains that her husband misunderstands her and treats her badly. Rich found that the writings of James Baldwin and the civil rights movement provided insights into her own indisposition and offered the hope that her unhappiness as a woman/wife/mother/poet might also be analysed politically and remedied. She became active in protests against US participation in the Vietnam War. She supported the student anti-war protests at Columbia University where she was teaching as an adjunct professor from 1967–1969.
Her works reflects the conditions of life in the 20s in America. Her writings ask important questions about how we should react and what we should ‘believe’. During the Vietnam war, for example, she writes about the different ways to deal with enemies, rather than about attacking, she writes of ‘transforming the warrior mentality’. She was a feminist and tried to reflect it in her works as she says: ‘what poetry means in the contemporary world, what transformative powers poetry has, and whether poetry can truly renew our lives, not simply anesthetize us or resign us by means of symbolic reconciliation’, she wanted to transform society thoughts and conventions by her writings. Her poetry, essays, and activism were organically intertwined with her life and her own personal and political transformations. She formulates profound critiques of fundamental institutions such as motherhood, patriarchy, and heterosexuality. Rich is that to understand her work and the major contributions she has made to literature and to political thinking it is useful to understand ‘the political and social contexts’ of the long period of time during which she was writing.Adrienne Rich was also frequently invited to contribute essays to book collections, to review the work of other authors, to participate in panel discussions, and to deliver talks to academic and civic groups. These invitations resulted in essays that appear in several volumes of her collected essays.
Adrienne Rich died in 2012 in California. After her death she was written an attribute, as Karen Stein states: ‘Adrienne Rich inspired legions of poets to commit acts of courage, to write against the grain and towards their will. Her courage was her integrity, to live as she said she would. What Adrienne has been most consistent about: that there is no separation between poet and participant in the political life, that we are part of the world’ (8).
As Karen Stein remarks, Adrienne Rich’s life describes a poetic and political trajectory as Rich evolved from an ‘apolitical, traditional, modernist poet’ to become a politicized “poet of the oppositional imagination’ (18). We decided to pick Adrienne Rich’s ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ because as soon as we read it, we could feel what this poem wanted to reflect, as there are lots of poems that we cannot understand unless we read the explanation behind. We have chosen that author because after reading her biography where we have acknowledged that she belonged the feminist movement, women’s liberation movement, and other important works that she made we wanted to know more about her and about her pieces of work.
According to Sarah Cook, women’s liberation movement was ‘the impetus for the founding of new institutions of psychological and mental health care for women in the late 1970s and 1980s’ (1152). According to Rich, as Isabel states: ‘Feminist criticism began not as a school of literary criticism but as a politically motivated act of looking at literature, both by men and by women, in terms of sexual politics, as Kate Millet named her landmark book in 1970’ (34). First, in order to know more about this movement, we must know what a liberated woman was: ‘one who worked her way through and out of the psychological, social, emotional and intellectual limitations stamped on her by false role definitions and indifferent education’ (1152). So, this means that in that age women started to set free and forget about the old social roles and start to arrange new ones.
‘Alternative to conventional psychiatry’ (1152) this change of mindset made them feel powerful, women started to fight all her rights against man, and they started to be heard. Women were also out of the public sphere, they began to show their discontent so things started to change: ‘The women’s movement demonstrated that discontent was political and could be a stimulus for activism around social change’ (1153) .
Local organizations for women began to be established to ‘extract’ feminist political meaning from personal feeling, including, among others, consciousness-raising groups, encounter groups and self-help groups.
In the late 1960s consciousness raising started to be a critical part of the women’s liberation movement, as we can observe in this quotation: ‘Consciousness-raising groups are a means whereby women share their often very personal experiences of discrimination and oppression, as a first step towards political understanding of it and resistance to it’(1153) , these groups were means of giving voice to women’s experiences of suffering and oppression. This movement started from small groups to magazines such as ‘Spare Rib saw themselves as performing a consciousness-raising activity’ (1153).Sarah Cook ends her article by saying: ‘how some members of the women’s liberation movement understood marginality, race and economic oppression in their local communities’ (1164) and how, as she states: ‘the conceptual apparatus and tools of the early women’s liberation movement allowed feminist critiques to be taken forward and for feminist activism to be enacted on the local level, providing sites of interaction with local politics and national policy agenda’ (1164). For Rich, Women’s liberation offered the ‘conditions’ that according to Susan Sheridan she ‘could at last overcome the split between woman and poet that had intensified unbearably when she became a wife and mother’, and at last ‘write directly and overtly as a woman… to take women’s existence seriously as a theme for art’ (1) . In her two most famous works ‘Diving Into the Wreck (1973)’ and ‘Dream of a Common Language (1978)’. This might be called the moment of her radical feminism and lesbian separatism. In his later works she describes this movement in her poems. They were means of transmit her thoughts and her ideals about her, her feminism and liberalism. In ‘Diving Into the Wreck (1973)’ that was the book with which Adrienne Rich was awarded the National Book Award. She describes in that work as a ‘A coming home to the darkest and richest source of my poetry: sex, sexuality, sexual wounds, sexual identity, sexual politics: many names for pieces of one whole’ (18) .
Another important work was Poems: Selected and New (1975) is said to have marked the ‘recognition of her status as a major American poet’ (18) , Adrienne Rich herself made it the occasion to declare her woman-identified feminism. It is dedicated to her mother and her sister.
With all-women anthologies, readings, and small-press publications, more and more voices could be heard. And as poetry became ‘the medium of the movement’, there were increased opportunities for commercial publication, as well as a massive expansion of independent feminist publishing.
‘Dream of a Common Language’ appeared in 1978, publishers described it as the ‘final vision’ of Of Woman Born. As Sheridan states, ‘this was the book where Rich came out as a lesbian as well as a feminist and made that identity central to her poetic persona’(20).‘Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)’ according to Susan it names patriarchy as ‘the problem with motherhood’, its examination of the ways ‘male power is exercised’ rather than its ‘focus on women’s suffering’. In this book she mixes her own experience as a mother with feminist theories. In this work she puts a lot of effort to use a simple use of language so that any woman could comprehend and respond to it. Compared to its predecessor, Dream ‘is less calculated to repudiate men than to provide an imaginative identification of all women’ (21). According to Stein, at the time she became a mother of three sons she analysed the meanings of white middle-class American motherhood in her ‘Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976)’. After that, she gave up her traditional marriage and later formed a partnership with Jamaican-American author Michelle Cliff.
‘Rich’s first book, A Change of World (1951)’, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Award, expressed anxiety in the face of change, a fervent wish to ‘close the doors in the face of oncoming storms, and to shut oneself into a safe place’ (2). She received new readers of women who identified as feminists, and as lesbians. Rich’s women’s movement readership probably reached its peak in the late 1970s, with Of Woman Born and Dream of a Common Language, as well as the famous essay, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Continuum’.
The Civil Rights, New Left, and feminist, or women’s liberation, movements provided analyses of social injustice that gave young Rich, along with many women, ‘an insight into women’s disempowerment in relation to job possibilities, salaries, housework, child care, and other issues’ (2). In her books and poems, she seemed to speak for others, about her deepest desires, fears, thoughts… ‘Her stories of shared struggle and changing consciousness can accommodate her readers as well, can become the myths of their lives, too’ (3). She continues to evoke the moment of women’s liberation as a turning point for her and another women’s writing.Rich points out that the energy and imagination of the women’s liberation movement brought the opportunity to create new communal organizations such as rape crisis centers, and women’s shelters, ‘It seemed that the power of women united for change could transform society’ (3). The second wave of feminism in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s aid more attention to ‘women of color, lesbians, working women, and third world women’ (3). The root that many feminists have debated is the injustice and inequality pf the patriarchy and male control of institutions. Rich’s poetry and essays starts to focus on broader social injustice issues.
The poem talks about the condition of women who live under their domineering’s husbands. The protagonist of the poem, Aunt Jennifer, is According to Dhanya G ‘archetype whose creative energies are blemished by mans’ (75) desire to see the women in conventional roles like knitting, this means that the protagonist is sewing as is the woman’s thing and that it was one of the things that her husband allowed her to do. Later we will explain the importance of this knitting. Another important thing is that the poem reflects the theme that is seen In Adrienne’s work through her writing life ‘her unwavering support for women's rights’ (76). In three short stanzas we see the suffering of a woman and the desire of freedom by knitting Tiger.
One of the things that Rich criticizes is patriarchy, as men hold the ‘authority and power and women are subordinated to them’ (76) Aunt Jennifer is scared of her husband and has become the victim in this poem. During the combative years of feminist definition, Rich decided to write primarily to and about woman and that male figures entered the poems almost exclusively as the patriarchal enemy.
Now, the three stanzas will be analysed in order to understand and comprehend in a deep manner ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’:
Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree:
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.
In this verse of the poem we observe the description of the fearless tigers Aunt Jennifer creates. We see the image of a green world in which the tiger looks bright yellow as ‘as valuable as topazes which reveals her dream of a happier life in her needle work’. The happy and free tiger that she imagines is the opposite to her. The tiger does not fear men as she does to her husband, it is free without thinking in any oppression or that it does not have a happy or sad life. His ‘freedom and dignity’ will be contrasted in the second stanza when we will see that Aunt Jennifer’s restrictions because of her marriage. The attribution of the adjective ‘chivalric certainty’ is a representation by Aunt Jennifer of her own envisioned power. It claims the gap between her actual social existences.She uses words such as ‘Topaz’ metaphorically speaking to represent the stripes of the tiger. As Dhanya states: ‘The speaker personifies the tigers, imagining that they have human feelings, like fear. But these men beneath the tree on the tapestry- are real men, careless and dominant. The tigers are awesome bright topaz denizens of the forest who pace with honour and braveness’ (77). This brightness could represent happiness and freedom as the opposite would mean sadness, oppression, being captive and the use of dark colours.
In this part of the poem we analyse how difficult is to sew for her as her wedding band seems heavy. This could be represented as a restriction of her husband and how she have to handle with the weight of a marriage represented in a ring. The only thing that Aunt Jennifer has in this poem is her knitting, but also it is seen how she struggles with it using words as ‘massive weight’ and ‘Sits heavily’. Another point of view is that if questions about the poem is whether Aunt Jennifer's struggles are due to her relationship with her husband, or because of the lack of power for women in the patriarchal society in which she lives. To conclude this verse, the wedding ring is a symbol of her marriage that even though it is hers it is describes as ‘'Uncle's wedding band’. With this possessiveness ‘uncle’s wedding band’ is implying that Aunt Jennifer is under his control and nothing in her house is hers, even the ring that she’s wearing is hers only a way of showing that she is from him and she will have to see it her entire life every time she looks to her hand.
When Aunt Jennifer is dead her hands will still be ‘terrified’. ‘Ringed’ appears as a symbol of the marriage that kept her. The master is 'the ordeals' that she suffers, allegedly at the hands of her husband. Though the lines are ambiguous here, it still suggests that Uncle is the master and Aunt Jennifer is the slave. She finds no escape from her suffering even after her death. But, the speaker says, the tigers will keep prancing in her needlework, and Aunt Jennifer will be immortalized through her art. Though Aunt Jennifer may die one day with 'terrified hands,' but her tigers will be just the opposite of those hands. They'll keep up their pride and go on prancing. Even if we are not sure if her husband has killed her by hand, we now that he has killed her day by day making her feel small and ‘terrified’. It is written in perfect iambic pentameter. Looking specifically at the last two lines of the poem, ‘The tigers in the panel that she made / Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid’(64), we see what critics generally consider to be the most subversive and hopeful lines in the poem. But it represents centuries of masculine domination in all creative faculties.
The tiger could represent what was inside of her that she could not express, or she was not allowed to do it. It represents qualities that she would have liked to have but she did not have them because of her husband. This animal has the values that Aunt Jennifer wanted to displace in her life: ‘strength, assertion, fearlessness, fluidity of motion’. We can discuss that the the central symbols of the poem are the knitting of the tiger and the Uncle's wedding band which represents the individual and social, the personal and the political meet. 'Oppressed' and the 'oppressor' Aunt Jennifer's Tigers is a poem highly provocative encouraging political action. Like Plath, Rich writes about women ‘s roles and experiences. Aunt Jennifer provides a way of thinking that evokes the consciousness of the modern women. As in other works of Rich, her Aunt Jennifer stands as a representative for all who are silenced and oppressed by the world masculinity unfit for women or men.
According to Mahsa Maneshi, ‘the confessional style of the poet in these works has created an atmosphere in which the description of a woman’s self-portrait seems plausible’ (401) , this means that thanks to the use of words, diction, she has created an ‘atmosphere’ in which she perfectly describes the feelings of Aunt Jennifer. Regarding to her style ‘which makes the poems difficult to understand are representations of the confounded soul of woman who have been detached from their very essence of being and strives to regain their lost voice in words’ (401). In other words, the way in which Aunt Jennifer describes her feelings ‘represent the confounded soul of a woman who has been detached from her very essence of being and strives to regain her lost voice in words’ (401). To support what we have said we will add this paragraph stated by Isabel, ‘It is easy to treat poetry as if it were engaged in the language-game of giving information and thus to assume that what is important about a poem is what it tells us about the external world’ (35). Her poetic choices such us, breaks between stanzas, spaces in the middle of lines, line endings, first person personae, womanly voices…’demonstrate this interweaving, emerging as reflections and constructive elements of her feminist consciousness’.
To sum the three stanzas up, we can see that patriarchy and suffering is shown by the symbol of the wedding ring that she wears. It is described as her husband ‘s property: ‘Uncle‘s wedding band‘. Her life with her husband described as a life of ‘ordeals’, which implies a long-term of suffering under her husband’s oppression. She had to live with that men during a long term until ‘her terrified hands will lie’. The tigers in the poem represent Jennifer‘s desire she wants the most. She wants to be strong like the tigers that do not fear the men. She wants to create precious pieces of art. Her life has been uncertain, helpless. Another way of thinking is that maybe Aunt Jennifer uses art as an escape from her sufferings, perhaps it was the only way out for maintain her head occupied or the only piece of happiness in her life, as sewing he could imagine another alternative live. In her sewing Jennifer imagines the kind of life she would have liked. Adrienne Rich's poems are known for her observation of the experiences of women in society. 'Aunt Jennifer's Tigers' is a statement of conflict in women, specifically between the impulse to freedom and imagination. In this poem we cannot reassure that Aunt Jennifer had so much impulse as she stayed quiet and submissive.
Her handiwork means for her a way out escaping masculine oppression. But as Turner says ‘Aunt Jennifer’s craft is already characteristic of the muted female voice’ (64) and that needle work is ‘a silenced and domesticated art form with no platform for exposure’ (64). Aunt Jennifer is permitted this domesticated handicraft but is ‘given no real influence in artistic expression’. The tigers may ‘go on prancing, proud and unafraid’ but they will do so within the confines of a patriarchal system where only men are given a dominant voice. We could even imagine that Aunt Jennifer is the representation of all women, especially in America, who suffered the oppression of their husbands, of the patriarchy making them think that only them have the right and vote to express their opinions out loud and that women should only do ‘women staff’ forgetting about their dreams. But as Rich defended only using words is the only way to reach freedom, an ‘intellectual freedom’ as Isabel states: “Rich believes these language functions presume an intellectual freedom’ (54).
In the light of the above, Adrienne Rich poetry, essays, and activism were organically related with her life and her own personal and political transformations. In her writings she gave profound critiques of fundamental institutions such as motherhood, patriarchy, and heterosexuality. She was a feminist and activist who fought with her works against patriarchy or at least, she tried to help other women by reading them. We have learned how important poetry, essays and all the types of writing were as they were means of communication between women who wanted to be heard or to be understood. They could talk about their personal experiences and feelings within the writings. We know that ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger’ is included in a collection of poems, A Change of World (1951), it was a poem that was inspired in other works and in other experiences of women who were oppressed under patriarchy. We have also learned that it was written in a moment in which women had no many opportunities so we see how Aunt Jennifer is the representation of all of them, the ones who could not escape who only way out of that tedious marriage was doing women ‘staff’ such as knitting. The tiger’s sewing of Aunt Jennifer is the representation of freedom, the way of life that all women wanted to have like the tiger, free, prancing, without being afraid of men. In this poem we see a silence voice but at the end we could imagine a kind of happy ending as it gives a ray of hope for those women who can not see a way out in their marriage. This poem has created a great impact in other scholars who have learned and commented from it. This work gives as an insight of how was living under the roof of patriarchy and how women used to conform as they thought that they could not change it. ‘Adrienne Cecile Rich is an enchanting poet; everybody seems to admit it; and this seems only right’ (36).
To end up this research we would like to add this paragraph stated by Mansilla: ‘In the seventies the stresses came to crisis and breakthrough, and Rich’s recognition of the oppressive divisions which within patriarchy rive personal and political relationships made her language more knotted and fragmented: violent images in unpunctuated, jagged lines; line breaks and gaps between lines spacing the pieces in arrested juxtaposition and bold confrontation’ (43) Rich was a role model as she recognize the oppressive divisions and tried to portray them into her poetry using ‘language more knotted and fragmented’ creating ‘violent images’ to create an impact in those women who could not see a way out of patriarchy.
1.Dhanya G. “Aunt Jennifer: A Victim of Patriarchal Society and a Persona Evolving Consciousness of Modern Women -A Study Based on Adrienne 2.Rich's Poem Aunt Jennifer's Tigers.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), vol. 20, no. 12, Dec. 2015, pp. 75–79., www.iosrjournals.org.
3.Mahsa Maneshi. “Woman-Defined Identity: Analysis of Selected Poems of Adrienne Rich.” International Journal of Education and Research , vol. 2, no. 9, Sept. 2914, https://www.ijern.com/journal/2014/September-2014/35.pdf.
4.Mansilla, María Isabel. Descripción prosódica de la poesía de Adrienne Rich: 1951-1999. Tesis Universidad de Valladolid, 2001. Impreso.
5.Sarah Cook. “WOMEN’S HISTORY REVIEW .” The Women’s Liberation Movement, Activism and Therapy at the Grassroots, 1968–1985 , vol. 27, no. 7, 2018, pp. 1152–1168., doi.org/10.1080/09612025.2018.1450611.
6.Samuel Turner. “Subversion and Containment in Adrienne Rich's ‘Aunt Jennifer's Tigers” Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism, vol. 8, no. 2, 12 July 7.2015, pp. 63–69: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/criterion/vol8/iss2/10.
8.Stein, Karen F. Adrienne Rich. Vol. 9, Sense Publishers, 2017.
9.Susan Sheridan. “ Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.” Poetry and Politics: Adrienne Rich and Women’s Liberation , vol. 35, no. 1, Jan. 2006, pp. 17–46., doi:10.1080/00497870500443813.