Rich stands to me a paragon of the women’s liberation movement. Her poems are torn between a rejection of the hierarchical roles imposed by society and an inability to overcome those roles. In “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” she establishes the idea of a woman with the desire to emulate the strength and freedom imbued in the tiger she created, but unable to break free of the oppressive restrictions society has placed upon her for being a woman.
In “Diving into the Wreck,” Rich tells an adventure story of rescuing treasure with a female hero, yet the wreck is a place of death for those preceding her. Rich seems torn, in this poem, between breaking free from a subordinate role and the sacrifices of those who have allowed her to have this option. She ultimately reinforces her desire for strength within women: The woman diver who struggles to walk in her flippers as well with the rest of the diving accoutrement, showing her discomfort in the dominant role. She then descends through the challenges of her ancestors and the damage done to them, but finally realizes strength through a shared consciousness in which she addresses the unrecognized role that women have played throughout history.
Lastly, in “Power,” Rich exposes the notion of failure in strength. In the poem, primarily about Marie Curie, Rich examines the unwillingness to accept that her death was caused by that which made her famous. It almost seems as though Rich presents this as a fable to warn those who come after. The message is not to avoid striving for greatness, but rather to accept that greatness has a great cost.