Summary: Part XXIII: Wall

Aunt Lydia tells of how she visited Aunt Vidala in the Intensive Care Unit. Another Aunt explained that the patient’s recovery was uncertain. As the nurse left, Aunt Lydia pocketed a small vial of morphine.

At lunchtime, Aunt Helena noted the absences of Agnes and Becka. Aunt Lydia said she thought they were fasting before their Pearl Girls trip. Aunt Helena then asked about Daisy’s whereabouts, and Aunt Lydia suggested she might be ill. Aunt Helena went to the dormitory to check on Daisy and came back with a note in which Daisy wrote that she’d eloped with a plumber. Aunt Lydia explained that there had been a complaint about a lack of bathwater in one of the dormitories and that Daisy must have met the plumber who had been summoned to fix it.

Summary: Part XXIV: The Nellie J. Banks

Daisy recounts how she and Agnes boarded the Nellie J. Banks. The captain explained their cover story: the ship was a cod fishing vessel that just made a delivery to Gilead and now was heading back to Canada. The captain directed the two fugitives toward a place to sleep in the hold below deck, and he assured them that they’d be safe there if the coast guard stopped the ship for an inspection.

Agnes and Daisy ate and slept. They awoke later in the night, as large waves rocked the ship. Daisy, who felt sick and whose wounded tattoo had grown infected, complained to Agnes that God had messed up her life. Agnes suggested that God may have messed it up for a reason. Daisy realized that Agnes still thought the true goal of their mission was to help save Gilead and purify it of corruption. Daisy declared: “Burn it all down.”

Agnes describes how worried she felt about Daisy, whose infected arm had given her a fever. To make matters worse, the ship had engine troubles. The powerful tide threatened to steer the ship seriously off course and possibly back toward Gilead, where the captain would be accused of woman-smuggling. Daisy’s fever grew worse, and she asked Agnes whether she thought they’d ever meet their mother. Agnes said she did and that their mother would love them, but Daisy warned that sharing blood doesn’t guarantee love. Agnes said a prayer for the two of them and for Aunt Lydia and Becka.

Later, the captain came down and told Agnes and Daisy they needed to offload. The ship was in Canadian waters but wouldn’t be able to reach shore safely or take them to the Mayday rendezvous point as planned. He instructed them to dress as warmly as possible and come to the main deck. The ship’s crew lowered the fugitives in an inflatable boat, and the Nellie J. Banks moved off. Daisy steered the inflatable boat as the captain had instructed her, cutting across the waves at an angle and trying to avoid the tide that would carry them to Gilead, but soon the motor died. Daisy’s infected arm had become useless. With only one arm she instructed Agnes how to row with the emergence oars, and she insisted they’d survive if they just tried.

Analysis: Parts XXIII–XXIV

Aunt Lydia’s act of pocketing the vial of morphine offers a moment of ambiguous foreshadowing. When she records the act in her manuscript, she gives the reader a cryptic explanation of why she did it: “foresight being a cardinal virtue.” In one sense, this fragmentary justification relates to Aunt Lydia’s overall strategy throughout her years in Gilead. Ever since becoming an Aunt, she has collected all sorts of evidence and squirreled it away for some unknown future time when it might prove useful. “Foresight” thus refers to a general plan that involves having multiple contingencies in place. With this in mind, Aunt Lydia likely took the morphine not yet knowing what she’d use it for. Yet the reader can hazard some guesses about how a vial of morphine might come in handy. Aunt Lydia knew how important it would be for Aunt Vidala to remain in her comatose state and thus be unable to reveal Agnes and Daisy’s escape, suggesting that Aunt Lydia might use the morphine to kill her colleague in the near future. Aunt Lydia has also discussed her desire to control the circumstances of her own death, suggesting she might save the morphine for her own suicide.

Despite committing to Aunt Lydia’s plan, Daisy and Agnes remain in disagreement about the ultimate goal of their efforts. In Daisy’s case, her goals have never wavered. She entered Gilead with the directive to find the source that leaked information to Mayday then escape back to Canada with a document cache that would condemn Gilead. Furthermore, because she knew that Aunt Lydia was the Mayday source, Daisy understood that Aunt Lydia’s true plan sought to topple Gilead. Agnes, by contrast, remained convinced that Aunt Lydia did not intend to bring an end to Gilead altogether but rather to expunge those who had proved spiritually rotten and reform Gilead from within. Despite knowing firsthand how corrupt Gilead society is at all levels, Agnes continued to believe in targeted but ultimately partial change. By contrast, Daisy insisted on the need for change to be systemic. Gilead’s spiritual rot had penetrated the foundations, and those foundations would need to be completely rebuilt. As Daisy put the matter: “Burn it all down.” Aunt Lydia, as always, skillfully manipulates both young women to do her bidding, understanding that Daisy will desire the full fall of Gilead but that Agnes, who has lived her entire life in Gilead, will not be able to accept its complete demise as an end goal.

Despite being connected by blood, Agnes and Daisy’s ideological differences lead them to understand that meaningful kinship relations require something more than genetics. This subject arose during a discussion about what their mother might be like and whether they thought she would love them. Agnes believed that it would be natural for their mother to love them. Daisy, however, cautioned against the belief that blood ties necessarily imply love. Both young women intuitively understood that love could exist just as well without blood ties. Agnes, for instance, grew up with an adoptive mother who truly loved her and whom she loved in return. Despite the grief she felt when she first learned that Tabitha wasn’t her biological mother, Agnes soon realized that their relationship had real value. Daisy also grew up not knowing her parents had adopted her, and though she held some suspicions about their parenting tactics, she knew they loved her and wanted to protect her. Agnes also truly loved Becka and viewed her as a sister. Thus, both Agnes and Daisy understood kinship was not strictly a matter of blood. Whatever might happen with their mother or even between the two of them, the success of these relationships would require real acts of camaraderie and love.