Around the same time, Agnes was entering puberty and grew concerned about her changing body. In anticipation of getting her first period, she felt like her body was a minefield. One day, she went to see the dentist, Dr. Grove, who happened to be Becka’s father. During the appointment, Dr. Grove sexually molested Agnes. She felt defiled and believed Paula knew what might happen at the dentist’s office, but she didn’t tell anybody.
At school, Shunammite spread rumors that Tabitha wasn’t Agnes’s biological mother and that her real mom was a Handmaid who had tried to smuggle her out of Gilead. Agnes felt that this story must be true. Anxious about her status as “the daughter of a slut,” Agnes prayed to Aunt Lydia.
A Handmaid joined the household to conceive Commander Kyle’s baby. The Handmaid, known as Ofkyle, eventually became pregnant and carried the child to full term. When the day came for Ofkyle to give birth, a medical complication arose, and a male physician performed an operation that saved the baby but killed the Handmaid. Traumatized, Agnes promised never to forget Ofkyle, whose real name, she learned later, was Crystal. At the Handmaid’s modest funeral, Agnes fumed silently at the injustice of her death.
Analysis: Parts V–VI
Aunt Lydia’s meeting with Commander Judd clearly demonstrates the considerable nature of the power she holds in Gilead. Despite appearing to take a subservient role, Aunt Lydia shows the extent to which Commander Judd’s reputation rests on initiatives that she created. For instance, she was the one to design and implement the Pearl Girls missionary initiative, which aimed to draw domestic and international attention away from the large numbers of fugitive women escaping from Gilead to Canada. The Pearl Girls program succeeded, and Commander Judd took credit for its success. In this way, Aunt Lydia exposes for her reader the basic fact that Commander Judd owed her his good reputation, which provided her with some security. And just as Aunt Lydia’s ingenuity propped Commander Judd up, her knowledge of his darkest secrets made it possible for her to bring him down at any time. She convinces him that she’s on his side by helping him to disguise the murders of his wives but harbors an ulterior motive that she does not yet reveal. Aunt Lydia wields her power skillfully and quietly, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Agnes continues to showcase her heretical imagination when she discusses the competing stories about the death of Paula’s husband. In Part II, Agnes described her unconventional ways of playing with her dollhouse set. From a young age, she used her imagination to subvert Gilead’s orthodox ideas about the organization of a household. Some years later, following the death of her beloved mother figure, Tabitha, Agnes once again shows herself capable of unorthodox thoughts. Agnes recounts two different stories about how Paula’s husband died. The official story, as told by Paula, had a simple and undramatic narrative that treated the man’s death as an unfortunate accident. But the alternative story, transmitted by gossipy servants, introduced elements of intrigue, betrayal, and gruesome violence into the otherwise bland official account. Attracted to good storytelling, Agnes strongly preferred the latter narrative, which fed her imagination with violent ideas of a female’s revenge on her male oppressor. In particular, the enjoyment Agnes found in picturing Paula kneeling in a pool of her husband’s body shows her natural capacity to think outside the confines of official Gilead ideology.
Agnes took a further step toward discovering the moral rottenness of Gilead as she reached puberty and saw how her changing body brought unwanted attention. From an early age, Agnes learned in the Vidala School that her body was a source of sin. She also learned that any inappropriate male attention to her body would reflect negatively on her, not the men. As such, when puberty hit and Agnes began to notice changes in her body, she feared that bad things would start happening to her. Agnes learned just how dangerous and unavoidable this minefield of her body was during an appointment with Dr. Grove, her family dentist. Dr. Grove had a good local reputation even though the some girls at school gossiped about his being a “pervert.” However, Agnes knew to respect his male authority. For this reason, she felt paralyzed and powerless when, in the middle of her appointment, he began to grope her. The experience traumatized her, not least because she felt unable report the incident since she assumed she would be blamed. Though she felt too confused at the time, the older Agnes now understands this incident as a sign of Gilead’s moral corruption as the state protected a pedophile.