Aunts are a class of strict and powerfully disciplinary women in Gilead. They are some of the highest-ranking women, responsible for overseeing the training and indoctrination of Handmaids, overseeing births, and presiding over women's executions. They, along with Guardians, are also responsible for monitoring prisoners in the Colonies.
Aunts also instruct Daughters in special schools and help arrange their marriages.
Aunts wear modest, brown clothing and belts with cattle prods attached.
Aunts run the Rachel and Leah Center, where Handmaids are sent to be trained and where they live in between assignments. Aunts are in charge of training the Handmaids and ensuring they don't escape, and doling out punishments to disobedient Handmaids. Due to their positions, they are the only women in Gilead permitted to read and write and have near-absolute power over the Handmaids, making them freer than most women under the regime. Though they are the only literate women, they are not permitted to be married.
Some Aunts came from positions of leadership and power. For example, Aunt Helena ran a Weight Watchers in Iowa, which made her the perfect person to encourage the Handmaids' testimonials. Aunts are usually fanatical supporters of Gilead and are brutal in their indoctrination of the Handmaids. Their training often involves Bible readings and sermons, lectures on Gilead's beliefs and on morality and 'a woman's place', viewings of violent, hardcore pornography and 'therapy' sessions, where women are forced to share their darkest secrets and 'sins' and are publicly shamed for them, as if it was their own fault.
Aunts also attend the births of babies by Handmaids, escorting other Handmaids to births to take part in the celebrations. In addition, Aunts preside over Particicutions, and other public salvagings, and announce the condemned's crimes and reminding everyone e.g. handmaids of their society's pure and Godly values.
Aunts also act as overseers and aggressive slave drivers in the toxic Colonies.
Aunts are fundamental in the instruction of Daughters, educating them of their marital duties.
Junior aunts are called Supplicants.
Pearl Girls are young Aunts who act as missionaries.
Becoming an Aunt
After the Takeover
Female activists among the pre-Gileadean "Sons of Jacob" who are single or divorced appear to become Aunts, which preserves them an acceptable legal protection in contrast to other classes of non-married women. Some more Aunts are recruited from the new class of (harshly deprived) Unwomen, in accordance to their pre-Gileadean qualification and the result of loyality checks.
Later Gilead periods
To become an Aunt, a young woman must receive a calling to higher service. They then go through an interview process at Ardua Hall with the four Founding Aunts (Elizabeth, Helena, Vidala and Lydia in that order) to see if they have the right temperament to formally join.
Upon acceptance, they go through a six-month probationary period, after which they become Supplicants and officially take on an Aunt name. During this probationary period, they start learning to read and write, and prove their worth through taking on domestic duties such as washing dishes and cleaning bathrooms. Over time, they are allowed certain privileges such as access to the Hildegard Library and the Bible.
Supplicants must continue their studies for nine additional years before they are allowed to start missionary work as Pearl Girls. They are finally promoted to full Aunt status upon the successful completion of their mission.
- Aunt Lydia, full name Lydia Clements (Founding Aunt)
- Aunt Elizabeth (Founding Aunt)
- Aunt Margaret (TV Series, Red Center, cameo by Margaret Atwood, author of the story)
- Aunt Kimberly (TV Series, Red Center)
- Aunt Dylan (TV Series, Red Center)
- Aunt Sarah (TV Series, Colonies)
- Aunt Pauline (TV Series, Colonies)
- Aunt Rebecca (TV Series, Red Center)
- Aunt Sara
- Aunt Helena (Founding Aunt)
- Aunt Christina (1990 Film)
- Aunt Vidala (The Testaments, Teacher, Founding Aunt)
- Aunt Estée (The Testaments, Teacher)
- Aunt Adrianna (The Testaments, Pearl Girl)
- Aunt Sally (The Testaments, Pearl Girl)
- Aunt Immortelle (The Testaments), originally called Becka Grove
- Aunt Victoria (The Testaments), formerly called Agnes
- Aunt Silhouette (The Testaments)
- Aunt Lise (The Testaments, Teacher)
- Aunt Gabbana (The Testaments, Matchmaker)
- Aunt Lorna (The Testaments, Matchmaker)
- Aunt Sara Lee (The Testaments, Matchmaker)
- Aunt Betty (The Testaments, Matchmaker)
- Aunt Beatrice (The Testaments, Pearl Girl)
- Aunt Dove (The Testaments, Pearl Girl)
- Aunt Lily (The Testaments)
- Aunt Wendy (The Testaments)
- Aunt Wendy (TV Series, Jezebel's)
- Aunt Ruth (TV Series)
- Aunt Cordelia (TV Series)
- unknown Aunt from Needham who defected to Canada (TV Series, Red Center)
- Aunt Irene (TV series, deceased)
- It is revealed in the epilogue that the Aunts deliberately had names associated with household products commonly used by women; for example, Aunt Sara, due to the association with Sara Lee, so as to make the Aunts seem more familiar to the Handmaids.
- Once a woman starts her training as an Aunt, she no longer has the ability to marry and/or have children. Thus why some Daughters such as Agnes and Becka choose to enter into this class, in order to escape potentially dangerous marriages.