Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
What is a theme? A theme is a generally recurring subject or idea conspicuously evident in a literary work. There can be more than one theme in a story or poem and the theme can be something such as love, death, war, peace, family or journeys. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” Elizabeth Rich presents the struggle of fearlessness, assertion, and power through the literary devices of symbolism and simple rhyme.
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In the first verse of “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” the fearlessness of Aunt Jennifer’s tigers she creates in her needlepoint is described. Aunt Jennifer is weighed down by her oppressive marriage and she likes to create the tigers in her needlepoint to help her feel as if she is not “afraid” of her marriage. Tigers represent strength and sneakiness and tigers can hide from various things. Tiger’s are very strong and can overcome anything. Knowing this, Aunt Jennifer likes to hope that she can have the strength and fearlessness like a tiger. Even though Aunt Jennifer is weighed down so much by her marriage, she likes to sew the tigers to appear “proud and unafraid”. She wants the tigers to appear as if “they do not fear the men beneath the tree; they pace in sleek chivalric certainty” (Rich). Aunt Jennifer hopes that one day she can appear as bright, happy, and fearless as the tigers she sews in her needlework. She has so much potential to get away from her terrible marriage and become strong like the tigers she envies, but it is hard for her when “the massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand” (Rich). Aunt Jennifer’s marriage makes creates a major lack of fearlessness and assertion in her life.
Assertion is a positive declaration or statement. In Aunt Jennifer’s life, there is no assertion except for the appearance of the tigers she creates in her needlepoint. The tigers create the only happiness in her life and “the tigers display in art the values that Aunt Jennifer must repress or displace in life: strength, assertion, fearlessness, fluidity of motion” (Bya). She creates the tigers with bright colors and so fearless, Aunt Jennifer wishes she could be just like them. Aunt Jennifer’s weight of her marriage and husband is holding her back so much that she has nothing positive going for her in her life except for her needlework where “tigers prance across a screen, bright topaz denizens of a world of green” (Rich). But if only Aunt Jennifer could gain fearlessness and assertion, she could possibly gain power.
To be powerless is no way to live. To have no power in your life or to not be in control of many things around you can emotionally and sometimes even physically harm yourself. Aunt Jennifer’s marriage has left her powerless because she does nothing but knit and knitting is the only power that she feels she has. Even when Aunt Jennifer has passed away, “her terrified hands will lie still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by” (Rich). Her “chivalric certainty” is her own “envisioned power but it is essentially a suturing image, at once stitching up and reasserting the rift between her actual social status an her vision” (Bya). So as long as Aunt Jennifer can envision the power, she has the power and strength to create an even greater power in the needlework of her tigers.
There are many different types of themes in stories. Some stories may even have more than one theme. A theme is a generally recurring subject or idea conspicuously evident in a literary work. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” Elizabeth Rich presents the struggle of fearlessness, assertion, and power through the literary devices of symbolism and simple rhyme.
Byars, Thomas B. “On “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”” Modern American Poetry. The Kent State
University Press, 1990. Web. 1 Feb. 2010. http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/poets/m_r/rich/tigers.htm
Rich, Adrienne. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.” 1929. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Sixth ed. X. J. Kennedy, 2007. 414-14.v
Rich, Adrienne. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.” 1929. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Sixth ed. X. J. Kennedy, 2007. 414-14.
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