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Aunt Lydia is a character in both The Handmaid's Tale and The Testaments novels. Aunt Lydia works at the Red Center, the re‑education school where Offred and other women go for instruction before becoming Handmaids.

Although she appears mainly in Offred’s flashbacks, Aunt Lydia and her instructions haunt June in her daily life. Aunt Lydia’s slogans and maxims drum the ideology of the new society into heads of the women, until even those like June, women who do not truly believe in the ideology, hear Gilead’s words echoing in their heads.

Aunt Lydia returns as one of the three narrators of The Testaments.

ProfileEdit

AppearanceEdit

She has the "tremulous smile of a beggar"[1], her long and yellowish front teeth sticking out a little[2]. She considers herself to once have been handsome, but by her seventies, laments the effects that age have had on her.

PersonalityEdit

StoryEdit

In the Past Edit

Before Gilead Edit

Lydia is the first in her family to attend college, and has to work "crappy" jobs throughout higher education. She later graduates and begins to work as a family court judge.

Aunt Lydia had an abortion when she was young, and a brief marriage that was a mistake. She had a few male lovers throughout her life, but no long-term relationships. She was a school teacher for two terms, but soon returned to family law. She volunteered at a rape crisis center, but quit because she lacked the time and because it "wore her down."

After the TakeoverEdit

By the time of the rise of the Gilead regime, Lydia is a middle-aged woman and working as a well-respected judge. When women's credit cards are cancelled (and their property legally transferred to their husbands or nearest male relatives), Lydia is informed of the change by her colleagues Katie and Anita. As they are discussing the new laws - and the abolished U.S. Constitution - their office is overrun by soldiers. Katie, as an unmarried young woman pregnant via sperm donor, is found to be afoul of the newly enacted religious laws and is taken to the Red Center, destined to become a Handmaid. Tessa, a receptionist in her late twenties, was seemingly placed on a waiting list to be potentially married off to a low-ranking man in the new regime. Anita and Lydia, however, are seized, and taken to a stadium[3].

They witness a mass killing of older, educated female professionals. While well-aware that a coup or regime change has occurred in the United States, Lydia is confused as to why she and Anita have been taken to the stadium and what its purpose is. More women arrive to the stadium each day and are divided into individual groups; many are interned with Anita and Lydia, while others are killed in mass executions. Lydia discovers that women are all highly-educated and divided into groups according to profession: doctors, lawyers and judges, professors, etc.[4]

One night, Lydia is taken by soldiers and introduced to Commander B. Frederick Judd. She is locked in a Thank Tank, a squalid cell, until sufficient time has passed. She is then allowed to stay in a hotel, and - at the end - given a brown dress, and has to execute the unlucky ones not selected to be Aunts. Lydia complies, unable to refuse after the tremendous amount of torture she has suffered, and enlists herself into the regime's newly-created class of women: the Aunts, entrusted by the new Sons of Jacob regime to police women, specifically to train fertile though sinful women (to become Handmaids) and training young women to eventually become Wives, as well as to assist in the recruitment of new Aunts and to help families arrange marriages[citation needed]

In the Red CenterEdit

In an old classroom, Aunt Lydia shows the Handmaids a graph of how the birthrate had fallen over the course of history, eventually falling below the “line of replacement.” Aunt Lydia says that women who did not want to breed were lazy sluts. She explains how much better childbirth is in Gilead in contrast to the old days, because birth is entirely natural. Women are not even allowed drugs to soothe their pain, because it is better for the baby, and because God wants women to suffer during childbirth.[5]

The Aunts sometimes show the Handmaids pornographic movies in which men practice violent sex on women. Aunt Lydia says that was how men thought of women in the old days. One movie is about “Unwomen,” feminists from the days before Gilead. The Aunts do not play the soundtrack, because they do not want the Handmaids to hear what the women said. (In one of these movies, Offred sees her mother as a young woman, marching in a feminist rally). [6]

Present, The Handmaid's Tale Edit

XIV SalvagingEdit

A women’s “Salvaging,” or large-scale execution, is held in what used to be Harvard Yard. On the lawn in front of the former library sits a stage like the one used for commencement in pre-Gilead days. Aunt Lydia sits on the stage, supervising the hangings. It is the first time Offred has seen Aunt Lydia since leaving the Red Center. [7]

Aunt Lydia announces that they have decided to discontinue announcing the crimes of the convicted because it sparks copycat crimes. Three women are hanged, two Handmaids and one Wife. The Handmaids must place their hands on a long rope as the women hang, in order to show their consent to the salvaging.[7]

After the hanging, Aunt Lydia instructs the Handmaids to form a circle. A few of the other women leave, but most Wives and daughters stay to watch. Then two Guardians drag a third Guardian to the front. He is disheveled and smells of excrement. He looks drunk or drugged. Aunt Lydia announces that he and another Guardian have been convicted of rape. His partner was shot already, but this man has been saved for the Handmaids, who will take part in what is called a “Particicution.” Aunt Lydia adds that one of the two Handmaids involved was pregnant and lost the baby in the attack. A wave of raw fury courses through the crowd; Aunt Lydia blows a whistle, and the Handmaids close in on the man, kicking and beating him to a bloody pulp. Ofglen dashes in first and kicks his head several times. Afterwards she whispers that the supposed rapist was part of the underground rebellion, and she wanted to put him out of his misery quickly. [8]

Present Following The Handmaid's Tale Edit

Following the escape of "Baby Nicole," Aunt Lydia is responsible for turning her into a legendary figure - a symbol of the potential betrayal within Gilead.

Following B. Frederick Judd's blunder of causing the National Homelands Genocide, Lydia saves his career by devising the Pearl Girls, a category of Aunts who are young women, going abroad as missionaries and converting and recruiting foreigners for Gilead, while also acting as agents for Gilead.

6 years after the end of The Handmaid's Tale, a statue of Aunt Lydia is commissioned in Ardua Hall. It is often blessed with oranges, eggs and bread by visitors. She often pockets the oranges for herself. In time she has become a legendary figure in Gilead - her picture is present in schools; her name is used to frighten children in Gilead, and she is the epitome of Gilead's moral perfection.

Lydia avoids the purges within Gilead by virtue of being a woman, through compiling information on Commanders, and by being tactful and appealing to Commanders.

Present, The Testaments Edit

15 years after the first novel, Lydia has a private sanctum within Ardua Hall's library, and from here writes her account of The Testaments. She celebrates Easter with the other Aunts, and leads a prayer for Baby Nicole[9]. Lydia then meets with Commander Judd, who informs her of the successful killing of Mayday agents - Neil and Melanie - in Canada. They discuss the success, but also lament the mysterious death of the young Aunt Adrianna in Canada, and discuss Neil and Melanie's possible counterparts operating within Gilead[3].

Judd returns to her with an official version of events - that Adrianna was killed by Mayday agents in Canada. Meanwhile, Lydia speaks to Sally and hears the truth - that Sally killed a violent Adrianna. She sends Sally to the Margery Kempe Retreat House to recuperate - largely for taking the unauthorized initiative to file a report immediately suspecting Neil and Melanie's daughter of being Baby Nicole.

RelationshipsEdit

  • Commander Judd - Lydia saved Judd's career by devising the Pearl Girls for him when international condemnation for the National Homelands genocide was at its zenith. They are old acquaintances and speak to each other as almost-equals.
  • Aunt Vidala - Lydia considers Vidala to be one of her rivals within the Aunt organization, despite Lydia outranking her.

AppearancesEdit

The Handmaid's Tale Edit

The only time when Aunt Lydia is seen in the novel is at the Salvaging.

The TestamentsEdit

Aunt Lydia is one of the three narrators.

QuotesEdit

"In my own present day I am a legend, alive but more than alive, dead but more than dead. I'm a framed head that hangs at the backs of classrooms, of the girls exalted enough to have classrooms: grimly smiling, silently admonishing. I'm a bugaboo used by the Marthas to frighten small children - If you don't behave yourself, Aunt Lydia will come and get you! I'm also a model of moral perfection to be emulated - What would Aunt Lydia want you to do? - and a judge and arbiter in the misty inquisition of the imagination - What would Aunt Lydia have to say about that?

"I've become swollen with power, true, but also nebulous with it - formless, shape-shifting. I am everywhere and nowhere: even in the minds of Commanders I cast an unsettling shadow. How can I regain myself? How to shrink back to my normal size, the size of an ordinary woman?

"But perhaps it is too late for that. You take the first step, and to save yourselves from the consequences, you take the next one. In times like ours, there are only two directions: up or plummet." - III Hymn, The Testaments

GalleryEdit

NotesEdit

References Edit

  1. The Handmaid's Tale, Section 8
  2. The Handmaid's Tale, Section 10
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Testaments, V Van
  4. The Testaments, VII Stadium
  5. The Handmaid's Tale, Section 19
  6. The Handmaid's Tale, Section 20
  7. 7.0 7.1 XIV Salvaging, Section 42
  8. XIV Salvaging, Section 43
  9. III Hymn
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