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Aunt Lydia writes that Gilead has “an embarrassingly high emigration rate” for a nation that claims to be “God’s kingdom.” The vast rural areas of Maine and Vermont pose challenges for security since the people who live in those areas remain hostile to the government of Gilead. She explains that Aunts Elizabeth, Helen, and Vidala recently formulated an official plan for ending “the female emigrant problem.” Earlier in the day, these Aunts came to visit her to report about raids on various heretics, including supporters of the Underground Femaleroad. Aunt Lydia accepted the news cheerfully then informed the other Aunts the existence of a possible spy in Gilead, maybe even in Ardua Hall.
Aunt Lydia returns to the story of her arrest. Guards drove her and Anita to a stadium, then herded them to a section of bleachers reserved for women with legal training. Waiting in the bleachers, Aunt Lydia took stock of her situation. As an overachieving “smarty-pants girl” who had grown up in a family that rejected education, she had developed grit and perseverance. She would have to put both to use again.
Late in the afternoon, armed men led a procession of blindfolded women on to the field and executed them. Aunt Lydia wondered why the men would bother with such a spectacle if they planned to murder all of the women.
Still in shock after learning about the deaths of Melanie and Neil, Daisy agreed to follow Ada’s lead. Ada drove her to a Quaker meeting house, which turned out to be an outpost of SanctuCare, an organization that supported refugees from Gilead. Ada left Daisy there for a while, and Daisy watched as volunteers tried to comfort crying refugees. At the time, she wondered why the women cried now that they were safe, but she explains that her own later experience helped her understand they cried from the release of stress.
An hour later, Ada returned and instructed Daisy to change into clothes that would disguise her. They got back into the grey van, and Ada drove them to an old mansion on the outskirts of Toronto. Inside, Ada showed Daisy to a furnished room. She brought Daisy food and chocolate cake for her birthday, but anxiety kept Daisy from eating.
Daisy woke up the next morning feeling disoriented and thinking about Melanie and Neil. She went into the living room, where Ada was waiting with a middle-aged man named Elijah. Elijah explained to Daisy that the previous day was not her real birthday and that Melanie and Neil weren’t her biological parents. He told Daisy that her real parents were still alive and well hidden. They had worked with the organization known as Mayday to smuggle her out of Gilead when she was a child and then placed her in Melanie and Neil’s care for safekeeping. Daisy said the story sounded like that of Baby Nicole, and Elijah told her that she was Baby Nicole.
Aunt Lydia’s discussion of how her colleagues designed a program to end “the female emigrant problem” showcases one of the ways that female leadership in Gilead actively supports the oppression of other women. When Aunts Elizabeth, Helena, and Vidala originally came to her office, Aunt Lydia sensed how proud they were of their efforts to shut down the rural network of rebellious citizens aiding female refugees fleeing Gilead. And when they came into her office again to report the removal of a few more links in the chain known as “the Underground Femaleroad,” their pride in their work remained as obvious as ever. Aunt Lydia received the news with apparent cheer, yet she also demonstrated a secret disapproval of their work when she redirected the conversation to the issue of a possible traitor in Gilead then immediately added that the traitor might be in Ardua Hall. Aunt Lydia attempted to subvert her colleagues’ work by using their own tactic against them. That is, she attempted to sow distrust amongst her fellow Aunts and thereby prevent them from achieving their goals.
The information Aunt Lydia provides about her own upbringing sheds light on her personality and her political allegiances. When describing the time she spent trapped in the stadium during the coup that established Gilead, Aunt Lydia notes that her childhood experiences prepared her well to fight through oppression. She was an intellectually ambitious youth, but she felt held back by her parents, who saw no point in pursuing education. Despite their rejection of her ambitions, she developed the fortitude necessary not just to fight her way out of her poor, rural hometown but also to put herself through law school, excel as a lawyer, and eventually become a judge. Aunt Lydia’s demonstrated ability to push through obstacles and thrive despite adversity formed the bedrock of her personality, and she knew she would need to build on this foundation to survive in the Republic of Gilead. Significantly, Aunt Lydia’s rural upbringing also endowed her with a spirit of independence that continues to influence her political allegiances. Just like the rural Mainers and Vermonters who, as she notes, remain steadfast in their disregard for Gilead’s policies, Aunt Lydia clearly works to subvert Gilead’s interests.
Daisy’s experience in the SanctuCare office foreshadows the end of her narrative, when she too will learn how the accumulation of stress affects an individual’s psyche. When she first arrived in the SanctuCare office, Daisy felt confused by the crying refugees from Gilead. Her confusion stemmed from the apparent illogic of having an emotional outburst when you’re no longer in danger. As a sheltered Canadian girl, Daisy could not fathom the depths of the damage these refugee women had endured in Gilead. As Daisy reflects in her testimony, however, she herself will later gain first-hand experience of a similar psychological phenomenon. Despite not yet knowing the full extent of Daisy’s story, the reader does understand that whatever happens in the rest of the novel, Daisy will undergo some kind of stressful experience. And when she emerges safely on the other side, she will have some kind of emotional release, just like the Gilead refugees. In short, the brief scene in the SanctuCare refugee center foreshadows the successful completion of Daisy’s future mission.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Testaments!