Summary: Part V: Van

Aunt Lydia speculates on who her future reader might be. She assumes her future reader will wonder how she has avoided being found out and executed by Gilead’s male ruling class. She attributes her political longevity to three facts. First, as the leader of the Aunts, she controls the women’s cultural sphere of Gilead. Second, she has collected a lot of dirt on those in power. Finally, she’s discreet and patiently waits for opportunities to use her power.

Aunt Lydia describes a meeting she had with Commander Judd the day before. Commander Judd controls the intelligence agency known as the Eyes and hence wields great power and influence in Gilead. He works closely with Aunt Lydia, who knows he has discreetly killed several of his wives in order to marry ever-younger women.

Commander Judd informed Aunt Lydia that agents of the Eyes in Canada killed two of the most active Mayday operatives, based on valuable information provided by Pearl Girls. Aunt Lydia notes that she came up with the Pearl Girls missionary program at a time when many Gilead women were successfully escaping to Canada. However, Commander Judd took credit for the Pearl Girls idea, which saved his political reputation. At the end of their meeting, Commander Judd expressed concern that the Canadian Mayday operatives must have been in contact with someone in Gilead.

Aunt Lydia writes of her regret at not having escaped before the coup that established Gilead but then dismisses such regret as being of no practical use. She then begins an account of her experience during the coup. Shortly after the Sons of Jacob “liquidated” the U.S. Congress, armed men came to the office where she worked as a judge. The men arrested all of the women there, and they ordered Aunt Lydia and her colleague Anita to be sent to a nearby stadium.

Summary: Part VI: Six for Dead

Agnes’s testimony picks up following the death of her mother, Tabitha. At the funeral, Agnes spoke with a recent widow named Paula, whose husband’s death had inspired gossip. Paula claimed that their Handmaid had accidentally killed her husband. However, another version circulating among Marthas held that Paula’s husband had made illicit sexual demands on the Handmaid, who had killed him for revenge. Agnes preferred the second version, and she liked to imagine Paula kneeling in a pool of her late husband’s blood. Not long after the funeral, Agnes’s father married Paula.

Around that time, a disturbing even occurred at school. Aunt Vidala told Agnes’s class the story of “the Concubine Cut into Twelve Pieces,” in which a man’s concubine runs away. The man finds her at the house of her father, who agrees to give her back to the man. As they journey home, lustful men come to assault the man, but instead of facing the angry mob himself, the man throws the concubine out of the house. Agnes later learned the part of the story Aunt Vidala left out, in which the man cuts the concubine’s body into twelve pieces, sends one to each of the twelve Tribes of Israel, and starts a war between them. But even without the full story, the story disturbed the girls. Becka, in particular, felt horrified by the injustice in the story and claimed that she’d never get married.