Summary: Part XI: Sackcloth

Aunt Lydia recounts a dream she had the previous night. She dreamt that she stood in the stadium wearing a brown dressing gown. She stood alongside other women in the same garb as well as several men. Each had a rifle, some with bullets and some without. They faced two rows of women. Aunt Lydia recognized the face of each woman, and she recognized former friends, clients, and colleagues. The women smiled enigmatically as Aunt Lydia and those beside her raised their guns and fired.

She returns to the point in her story when she put on the garment laid out for her in the hotel room. An hour later, men escorted her to Commander Judd. He asked her again if she would cooperate, and this time she said yes. Her agreement meant that she had to participate a stadium execution, which she did. Anita was among the victims executed that day.

Aunt Lydia describes her first meeting with Aunts Elizabeth, Helena, and Vidala. Elizabeth and Helena had, like Aunt Lydia, been selected for their past professional experience. Elizabeth had worked as the executive assistant to an influential female senator, and Helena had served as a public relations representative for a lingerie company. Vidala, by contrast, had taken part in planning the coup, and she was poised to serve as the other women’s spiritual advisor.

Commander Judd tasked these four women with creating laws and regulations to govern Gilead’s women. Aunt Lydia insisted that if there was to be a separate female sphere, then women should have sovereign command over it. Commander Judd agreed, which boosted her confidence. In their early work together, Aunt Lydia observed the other Aunts’ vanities and weaknesses. She believed she could rise to power by playing these women against each other. She lived by three commandments: “Listen carefully. Save all clues. Don’t show fear.” She committed herself so fully to the work that she almost believed the ideology she and her colleagues were making up.

Years later, Commander Judd apologized to Aunt Lydia for the extreme measures he took “to separate the wheat from the chaff.” He assured her that her rifle had contained a blank.

This portion of Aunt Lydia’s manuscript concludes with an account of a visit Aunt Vidala had paid her the previous evening. Vidala had come to report Aunt Elizabeth’s concern that the food offerings left at the feet of Aunt Lydia’s statue constituted cult worship. However, Aunt Vidala said she’d personally witnessed Aunt Elizabeth placing offerings herself, as if to create evidence that Aunt Lydia encouraged others to worship her.