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Aunt Lydia is a character in The Handmaid's Tale novel. 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.



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.



Before Gilead Edit

Lydia was the first in her family to attend college, and had to work "crappy" jobs throughout higher education. She later graduated and began 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."

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 were cancelled (and their property legally transferred to their husbands of nearest male relatives), Lydia was informed of the change by her colleagues Katie and Anita. As they were discussing the new laws - and the abolished U.S. Constitution - their office was overran by soldiers.

Katie, as an unmarried young woman pregnant via sperm donor, was 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, were seized, and taken to a stadium, where they witnessed 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 woman would arrive to the stadium each day and be divided into individual groups; many were interned with Anita and Lydia, while others were 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.

One night, Lydia was taken by soldiers and introduced to Commander B. Frederick Judd. She was locked in a Thank Tank, a squalid cell, until sufficient time had passed. She was then allowed to stay in a hotel, and - at the end - given a brown dress, and had to execute the unlucky ones not selected to be Aunts. Lydia complied, unable to refuse after the tremendous amount of torture she had suffered, and enlisted herself into the regime's newly-created class of women: the Aunts, entrusted by the new Sons of Jacobs regime's 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]

After the Takeover 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.

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. 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.

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.


  • 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.


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


"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



References Edit

  1. Section 8
  2. Section 10
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