The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood
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Aunt Lydia

Characters Aunt Lydia

Offred often remembers—and quotes—Aunt Lydia, one of the Aunts responsible for Offred’s “re-education” at the Red Center. Aunt Lydia is one of the least likeable faces of the Gileadean regime. Armed with a cattle prod, she is responsible for some of the most misogynist statements in the novel, and also some of the most extreme distortions of religious ideas. For example, when she warns Offred and the other Handmaids to be careful of Wives, she says: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”—quoting Jesus on the cross—before adding “You must realize that they are defeated women,” because they have been unable to bear children (Chapter 8). By making a woman an especially hateful representative of the Gileadean government, the novel suggests that women are complicit in sustaining the male-dominated regime. The “Historical Notes” section states this idea outright: “when power is scarce, a little of it is tempting.” However, the “Notes” section also offers a more sympathetic explanation for the motives of the Aunts. By joining the Aunts, women “escape redundancy, and consequent shipment to the infamous colonies.”