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Aunt Lydia describes a series of troubling visits. First, Aunt Vidala came to protest sending Agnes and Becka on their Pearl Girls missionary work. She knew that Agnes had gotten unlawful access to her own Bloodlines file and worried that the knowledge about her mother would weaken her resistance to dangerous ideas.
Next came Aunt Helena, who also wanted to report that Agnes had been reading her own Bloodlines file. Aunt Lydia suggested that Aunt Vidala might have given Agnes the file, and before sending her away, she asked Aunt Helena to keep tabs on Aunt Vidala’s movements.
Later, Aunt Elizabeth approached to inform Aunt Lydia that Eyes and Angels had raided Ardua Hall’s print shop and confiscated the Pearl Girl brochures.
Aunt Lydia visited Commander Judd, who explained that someone in Ardua Hall had been communicating with Mayday operatives via microdots attached to the brochures. He raided the print shop hoping to secure evidence. Aunt Lydia defended the innocence of the Aunt who worked in the print shop, but she mentioned her recent doubts about Aunt Vidala. With no concrete evidence from the raid and other governmental officials questioning his effectiveness, Commander Judd suggested they should put Baby Nicole (i.e., Daisy) on public display and announce her betrothal to him.
Aunt Lydia arrived at the apartment Agnes shared with Becka and Daisy to report the raid on the print shop and Commander Judd’s plan to get engaged to Daisy on television. They revised their plan. Agnes and Daisy would leave first thing the next morning and follow a preset route to escape to Canada. To buy time, Daisy would write a note pretending that she ran away with a man. Meanwhile, Becka would hide herself so no one would suspect that Daisy left with Agnes in her stead.
Aunt Lydia returned later that night with everything Agnes and Daisy would need for their journey. Agnes tried to persuade Becka to come with them, but Becka explained that they would certainly be caught if there were more than two Pearl Girls traveling together. Agnes and Becka expressed their love for one another. The next morning, Agnes and Daisy set off. They encountered Aunt Vidala just outside Ardua Hall, and Daisy punched her in the chest, using a heartstopper punch that she learned in Mayday training. Aunt Vidala collapsed, and they dragged her unconscious body behind Aunt Lydia’s statue. They worried that Aunt Vidala was dead, but they rushed into the car waiting to take them to a bus station at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
From Portsmouth, they took a bus to a remote town, where they changed out of their Pearl Girl outfits and into jeans and long T-shirts. While getting dressed, fabric snagged painfully on the “O” of Daisy’s tattoo. A man drove them to their next destination. Agnes thought about her early childhood and felt homesick for Zilla, Rosa, and Vera. In the middle of the night, the driver stopped and directed Agnes and Daisy toward a motorboat on a river. They got in the boat, which escorted them quietly toward a larger vessel, the Nellie J. Banks.
The urgent meetings Aunt Lydia has with each of her fellow Founders in Part XXI indicates a crisis moment in which everyone has begun to scheme against everyone else. Aunt Lydia has already played Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Vidala against each other. When it became clear to her that Aunt Vidala was trying to frame her for traitorous activities, Aunt Lydia told Aunt Elizabeth about it hoping that the news would sow distrust. Now she makes a similar move with Aunt Helena when she insinuates the Aunt Vidala may have furnished Agnes with the forbidden information about her lineage. Aunt Lydia has now mobilized both Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Helena against Aunt Vidala, a strategy that shifts negative attention away from herself and stirs up doubt and suspicion amongst her fellow leaders. Aunt Lydia’s targeted sabotage of her colleagues’ trust actively builds toward a crisis moment, one that will, she hopes, provide suitable cover for the launch of her grand plan’s final stage.
In an ironic twist, despite training to use her heartstopper punch on aggressive men, Daisy ended up using it to stop Aunt Vidala. Daisy first learned about this type of punch from Garth, the Mayday operative who trained her in self-defense back in Toronto. When she arrived in Ardua Hall, she continued her physical training in her room. Both events foreshadow her use of this punch at a crucial moment. After her exercise one night, Agnes and Becka insisted to Daisy that men were responsible for protecting women, but Daisy explained that it was the men who scared her. Significantly, Becka responded that if a man behaves aggressively toward a woman, then she must have done something to deserve it. Daisy rejected Becka’s logic as a form of victim blaming. When Daisy made this claim, she implicitly underscored an important point: that women like Becka do violence to other women when they adopt patriarchal logic. In other words, Becka’s belief that male aggression is the woman’s fault is just as violent as the physical assault itself. It is precisely this kind of female complicity that Daisy defended against when she punched Aunt Vidala—a woman who actively helped men oppress women. Ironically, Daisy’s training paid off, just not in the way she’d originally intended.
In contrast to Aunt Lydia’s attempt to sow discord among her female colleagues and to Aunt Vidala’s commitment to female oppression, a meaningful sisterhood developed between Agnes, Daisy, and Becka. As explained in Part XXII, Agnes and Daisy share the same mother and hence are related by blood. When Aunt Lydia revealed this information, they embraced each other as sisters. Importantly, they also embraced Becka as a sister, albeit not biologically related. Each of these three young women had troubled family ties. Agnes lost the only mother she’d known and felt discarded by Commander Kyle. Daisy learned that everything about her childhood had been a lie. Becka survived sexual assault at the hands of her own father and fled her family to join the Aunts. However, these women now gathered under the influence of Aunt Lydia, who had become a surrogate mother figure for all three. By joining together to carry out Aunt Lydia’s plan, Agnes, Daisy, and Becka also formed a deep bond of female kinship. This bond shines out in meaningful contrast to the many forms of violence that women perpetrate against each other elsewhere in the novel and highlights the importance of women joining forces as the only meaningful way to fight male oppression.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Testaments!