The tone of these lines are dark and sad like the aunt. The lines are short and controlled. They end abruptly like they are cut off suddenly. This also represents the aunt and how she is controlled and cut off from the outside world with not even a voice to call out with, nor an ear in close enough to hear a cry for help. The line, “When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie” shows that her only view of getting away from her husband is through death.
This idea is introduced to a woman from the very beginning of her marriage by her vow of, “Till death do us part” and again perpetuated with, “What God joined together, let no man tear apart.” The second line of the third stanza, “Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by” show that even in death, her husband’s ring will remain on her body as a representation of ownership and the abusive marriage.
If she is religious, she may even feel that God himself approved of her abusive treatment because marriage is sacred and binding.
This would carry on after life and into death. This idea could be supported by the last two lines in the third stanza, “The tigers in the panel that she made” “Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid”. She may be dead and gone, eternally bound to master and husband, but the projected image of her free self through the creation of the tigers will always remain alive and free.
Their representation is not known to the husband. The creation of the art itself was ordinary to household duties of a woman and the one place that she could boldly depict herself without suspicion. The word “prancing” eludes to her secret defiance that is in plain view of her husband. The tiger version of her will never die. It will represent her to future generations and the tiger is “proud” and “unafraid” representing her one independent act in the marriage that her husband could not control.
Adrienne Rich describes the plight of women who are victims of domestic violence in the home through this poem. She shows that isolation, control, intimidation and entitlement by gender and marriage are all forms of abuse and are equally qualify under the domestic violence definition. She expresses how women that are not only abused, but abused in the name of the institution of marriage, are emotionally and spiritually damaged. Due to the secrecy of the household and the husband’s rights in marriage, they are very unlikely to receive help or even notice at all. Women who are abused and made to think that it is not a violation of their rights as human beings, because of gender or cultural traditions are suffering a great injustice. The types of abuse do not leave a physical mark upon her body, but the trauma is no less.
Her depiction of the woman actually seeing herself as a symbol of strength and prowess, such as a tiger, speaks very loudly to the victim’s attitude of caring and protection for other women, instead of being numb or jaded due to their own experience. The description of the aunt as fearful and anxious turns to depressed, heavy and hopeless. This transition shows the systematic erasure of her identity by her abusive husband through control, manipulation and isolation. Andrei Lankov stated, “To not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence”. The expression of her feelings in the outlet of her art gives hope and light to women whose rights are oppressed. The tiger art is a part of her that can never be erased. She was a prisoner in her home, but she broke free through her art and made a powerful statement without words.