The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Aunt Lydia

Aunt Lydia said she was lobbying for the front. Yours is a position of honor, she said.

Offred recounts Aunt Lydia’s view of the evolving policy regarding treatment of Handmaids in the early days of Gilead. When first brought to her new posting, Offred was allowed to come in the front door like a member of the household, but after that she was instructed to use the back door like a servant. Aunt Lydia’s asserts that Handmaids should always use the front door as befits their honored status. This subtly indoctrinates the Handmaids into thinking their lives are better and more worthwhile than before, one of many examples of Aunt Lydia’s master manipulation.

Try to think of it from their point of view, she said, her hands clasped and wrung together, her nervous pleading smile. It isn’t easy for them.

Aunt Lydia appeals to the Handmaids to show consideration for the Wives’ position. The fact that Aunt Lydia tries to look “pleading” shows that she hopes to manipulate the Handmaids to think they are the ones in power. But her strong identification with the Wives underlies her statement “it isn’t easy” and she sympathizes with the Wives far more than the Handmaids. The story will compare the mutual roles to show the impact of Gilead policies on all women.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.

Offred thinks of Aunt Lydia’s words as she walks down a street and recalls the precautions women had to take to stay safe before Gilead. Aunt Lydia describes the time when women were free to do as they chose as “the days of anarchy,” suggesting that free people cause chaos. Aunt Lydia also wants the Handmaids to think of protection as more valuable than freedom, showing how little she herself thinks of other women’s intelligence.

I’ve learned to do without a lot of things. If you have a lot of things, said Aunt Lydia, you get too attached to this material world and you forget about spiritual values. You must cultivate poverty of spirit. Blessed are the meek. She didn’t go on to say anything about inheriting the earth.

Offred ruminates on Aunt Lydia’s maxims about letting go of materialism. Offred has lost the pictures she had of her daughter, her daughter’s clothes, and a lock of her daughter’s hair. In trying to come to terms with their loss, Offred remembers Aunt Lydia’s invoking biblical principles to show attachment to “things” as representing the wrong values. However, taking away or destroying items of sentimental value was done in order to destroy the memories and identities of the Handmaids, which Aunt Lydia saw as necessary to keep them servile.

It’s a risk you’re taking, said Aunt Lydia, but you are the shock troops, you will march out in advance, into the dangerous territory. The greater the risk the greater the glory. She clasped her hands, radiant with our phony courage.

On the way to the birth, Offred remembers that chances of having a healthy baby are one in four. Aunt Lydia sugarcoats the statistics by talking as though the women are joining an army to save their species, in which glory awaits if they are successful. Her analogy represents the indoctrination Aunt Lydia uses to manipulate the Handmaids into believing their lives matter more now than they did before.