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Gilead (Series)
This is Gilead. No one gets out.

Moira names a "disadvantage" of a society practicing slavery and human exploitation[1]

The Republic of Gilead, colloquially referred to as simply Gilead or elsewhere sometimes called, by its leadership, the "Divine Republic", is the totalitarian patriarchal theocracy that rules over most of the territory that belonged to the former continental United States in The Handmaid's Tale. The regime that governs it can be seen as the overall antagonist of the television adaptation.

Society and Politics

Administrative Structure

The storyline hasn't detailed how Gilead's government and state function precisely, however a theocratic, inner party of men, more appropriately termed a junta called "Committee" appears to be in charge [2]. They rule from Washington, D.C., which is the capital of Gilead and the former United States of America, the remnants of which Gilead has been engaged in an ongoing civil war with over territory and population (particularly women).

Unlike the United States of America, Gilead is not a democratic republic but rather an oligarchic one ruled by the Committee.

Political maps of Gilead reveal that Gilead abolished America's federal system of government and states, and has become a unitary republic with a centralized government and the former states re-organized intro larger "districts". On a regional level, Gilead is governed by "Councils" as boards of local Commanders.

Head of the nation of Gilead is the President of the National Committee of Gilead but hasn't been seen.

Gilead borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.

Legislation and Politics

Individual civil liberties enumerated in the now-suspended U.S. Constitution have been replaced by a system of duties and privileges implemented in a hierarchy of social classes, with every former U.S. citizen being assigned to a particular class and expected (and/or forced) to fulfill certain roles (see Society and Class System). Much of this legislation is influenced and justified by a rigid, made-up interpretation of scripture. The name Gilead itself is taken from the Bible, referring to several different locations and generally translated as "hill of testimony."[citation needed]

In particular, Gilead is a patriarchal society, where only men have access to higher education[3]. Women are not allowed to have titles or deeds to property in their name and cannot have a career unless said career is specifically assigned to them by the Gilead leadership. Men are also the only ones eligible to hold political office.

Women are regarded as second-class citizens as they must submit to the authority of men ("Next male of kin"[3]). Most female classes are forbidden to read or write[4]. The only women who are still allowed to read and write are the Aunts [5], Although Aunts are allowed to be literate, they are still inferior in rank to the Wives, who are considered the paramount rank a woman can hold in Gilead.

Some civil rights however are assumed or confirmed to be suspended for good, e.g. freedom of speech (which is considered heresy), freedom of the press[6], freedom of religion [7] and freedom of assembly[3]. The Eyes serve as Gilead's political police force and sends spies to detect and punish infringements and political opponents[7].


Citizenship doesn't truly exist for econopeople. Women have no rights, economen have no rights and must work or be hanged with no exceptions. Only Commanders are granted full rights as long as they don't violate laws of the Divine Republic. Passports are only granted to Commanders. Wives of Commanders are granted passports only while traveling for business or pleasure with their husbands but the husband is responsible for presenting passports to foreign officials. It isn't known if Commanders take personal vacations abroad. It is known that commanders traveling for business on behalf of Gilead are usually exempt from showing a passport but are issued with an official invitation letter that must be presented when stopped by those in authority to prevent being held as an illegal.


The military of force Gilead consists of men who were previous members of the USA military. Military conscription is used to fill required troop strengths. Gilead also has an air force, a small navy, and a Coast Guard that patrols the the nation's coastlines. Weapons of the military are M16 and European weapons (Exported by Sanctions Busting). Gilead military vehicles are the humvee and helicopters that were built in Texas before it became the Republic of Texas.

Society and Class System

Gilead doesn't practice general equality before the law; while members of different classes can be sentenced variably for identical "crimes" (see Ofglen's case), the individual legal position within one social class appears uniform. In that spirit, the Gileadean class system has "replaced" the suspended U.S. Constitution.


As stated by June (in Baggage), this social 'class' (or group) contains all former U.S. citizens who "played their cards right" and aren't explicitly reassigned into another class. The legal Gileadean gender discrimination (as seen e.g. in Late), however, implies the effective distinction in male and female classes of Econopeople. Furthermore, the flashback scenes in Late suggest male Econopeople can keep some of their pre-Gileadean liberties, like holding down a (remunerated) job or owning property; unlike for females, there is no evidence in the show for the existence of male slave labor.

Since young females in Gilead are expected to marry when reaching menarche[8], the social class of "Econowives" (as mentioned in the novel) can be seen as a synonym to female econopeople as portrayed in the show; as to males, it is unknown if there is only one overall class of "Economen" or a more detailed distinction. Since single men of "low status" are "issued" women by chance[9], this may suggest some legal distinction between married and unmarried male Econopeople.


Legal gender discrimination implies different rights to levels of education for boys and girls in Gilead. In particular, girls aren't taught to read or write and they leave school when reaching menarche and marrying[10].

Female Classes

Women are believed to be the "lesser" sex, who should be subject to men. Women's main purpose in this society is bearing and raising children, which is given particular emphasis due to the possible rampant infertility present in North America at the time. Women are not allowed to participate in the government, be educated, hold property or have a career[3]. By law, only women can be considered infertile, not men, thus placing the blame for the fertility crisis solely on women. Because of these beliefs, men cannot "factually" be infertile, even if this is the case; to suggest otherwise is heresy[citation needed].

  • Wives are the highest-ranking women. They can issue limited commands to Aunts[4] and Guardians[11]. Despite their ranking, the role and lifestyle of wives is more or less ornamental, with no real power other than their authority over household staff and the influence of their husbands. They wear tailored teal / blue / green dresses.
    • PC are previous Wives whose husbands have died. They wear black garments to signify mourning.
  • Aunts are tasked with overseeing Handmaids, Daughters, and Unwomen. In this capacity they are allowed to read and write[5], a 'special dispensation' not granted to wives. They can issue commands to Guardians, and are able to report 'unseemly' behavior within households, this includes reporting a Commander and his wife (for example, for not conducting a monthly ceremony). Aunts preside over general punishments in Gilead, such as executions and the Colonies. Though they may not live a life of leisure, Aunts arguably have more individual power than Wives and have greater mobility. Prior to Gilead, they were unmarried good women of faith who contributed to the rise of Gilead. They wear brown garments.
  • Handmaids are women who are fertile, though a number of them are "bad". They wear red garments to symbolize fertility, and also because it makes them more conspicuous. A pregnant Handmaid has an elevated status.
  • Marthas are servants, and are expected to live a life of quiet servitude. Prior to Gilead, they were unmarried women of good faith. They wear grey garments, and must wear a veil.
  • Daughters are the usually adopted/abducted female children that are raised by Commanders and their Wives. They attend school, but are not taught to read or write. They wear light pink garments.
  • Econowives are wives to low-ranking men. They are married women of good faith. Like Wives, if an Econowife is fertile, she is allowed to raise her own children. If an Econowife is widowed, she becomes a Martha or Handmaid (if she is fertile). They wear grey garments.
  • Jezebels are prostitutes.
  • Unwomen are generally infertile bad women (though all women can be demoted to Unwoman). They work as laborers in the colonies, cleaning up toxic waste. Some in lucky numbers end up in the agricultural fields to produce food entirely self-sufficient. Most die of radiation poisoning. It is a fate some say is worse than death, but to others it is the reverse.

Male Classes

  • Commanders of the Faithful, or Commanders for short, are the apex of Gilead's male hierarchy.
  • Angels and Professionals, as introduced in the novels, have not (yet) been mentioned in the continuity of the show.
  • Guardians of the Faith, or Guardians for short, are Gilead's soldiers and uniformed police. Some of them serve as bodyguards and personal drivers to Commanders.
  • Sons are the usually adopted/abducted male children that are raised by Commanders and their Wives. They attend school, and are likely expected to become Gilead's future Commanders. They wear light blue garments.
  • Eyes of God, or The Eyes for short, are Gilead's secret police.
  • Unknown class(es) among male Econopeople

Values and beliefs

It is most likely that the leaders of Gilead are an extremist Christian cult. They believe that their out-of-context and strict interpretation of the Bible is the absolute truth and that in order for people to achieve salvation and live a pure, godly life, they must follow these guidelines. To do otherwise is seen as living in sin, and the guilty must either repent, or be put to death to prevent them from spreading their evil influence to others.

Women are believed to be the "lesser" sex, who should be subject to men. Women's main purpose in this society is bearing and raising children, which is given particular emphasis due to the possible rampant infertility present in North America at the time. Women are not allowed to participate in the government, be educated, hold property or have a career. By law, only women can be considered infertile, not men, thus placing the blame for the fertility crisis solely on women. Because of these beliefs, men cannot "factually" be infertile, even if this is the case; to suggest otherwise is heresy.

Modesty and purity in all areas of life are greatly emphasized, particularly for women, who are believed to be more prone to weakness of character and sin. Abortion and contraception are considered some of the greatest sins. Doctors who performed abortions before Gilead's establishment are executed. Fraternization between men and women of different classes is viewed as "fornication" and is punishable by death for all involved. Sex outside of marriage, dependent on the offender's marital status, is a crime. If the offender is married and having sex with someone not their spouse, it is adultery. If the offender is unmarried and having sex, it is fornication. Both are subject to severe punishments, including the possibility of death. Homosexuality, referred to as "Gender Treachery," is considered a sin and a crime punishable by death.

Gilead's leaders are largely using women and minority groups as scapegoats because they can be easily discriminated against. They are also engaged in mass deportation of Jews from America to Israel[12], cramming them into cargo ships – though in practice, many transport ships simply cut corners by dumping their holds once they reach the open sea, leaving them to drown by the hundreds[13]. In the novel, Gilead also discriminates against African-Americans, whom they refer to in their religious rhetoric as the "Children of Ham". In the Series, all infertile Jewish women are sent to the colonies while all Jewish men were executed and put on The Wall, and Jewish children were converted and presumably ended up with 'fit' parents[citation needed]. In the series, African-Americans are fully incorporated into Gilead society, with most black men serving as Guardians and black women as Handmaids, although some have also been seen as Econopeople. The decision to downplay the "Children of Ham" designation was that it was not overly emphasized in the book, and have it reflect that in the real world many black churches have been supportive of the Christian evangelical movement.

Whilst some of Gilead's leaders and founders are implied to truly believe in the regime, it is hinted that many of them are hypocrites who use Gilead as a means to gain power for themselves. They do not care for its values and ideals at all, and regularly flout its rules whilst punishing others who do so (such as by visiting Jezebel's for sex with the forced prostitutes there-usually a capital crime).

National Economy

 See also: Commander Lawrence's Bookshelf for further details.

Gilead is committed to a decarbonized economic model with a goal of significantly lowering and eventually eliminating emissions. Much of its economy is centered around slave labor--specifically its food sources (there is much mention of the "Agricultural Colonies" where prisoners are sent to do farm work). Foreign imports is limited to vehicle parts, certain consumer goods and a few covert military imports. Gilead exports food to most countries that are friendly and had been hostile to the United States due to the latter former Sanctions prior to the President's Day Massacre.

It is implied as soon as Gilead rid itself of women's rights, Gilead nationalized all remaining properties and bank accounts belonging to US citizens, US corporations and foreign nationals including major foreign corporations. The latter led to international sanctions due to no compensation and no ability to transfer money back to their own nations plus their own nationals being born on US soil. A few years later Japan and Republic of Gilead would resolve seizure of Japanese assets plus their properties and would see Japan lifting its sanctions on Gilead leading to Tourism to Gilead from Japan.

Crime & Punishment

A sign in front of a Gilead Church showing banned religious and social groups

 See also: Laws in Gilead (Main article) The law is absolute in Gilead, as well as in the Colonies. Any rule-breaking or subversion committed either in Gilead or the Colonies must be reported and those who committed them are harshly punished. Criminals are often executed and their bodies displayed on the Wall as a severe warning; the Eyes also use excessive torture and other brutal interrogation tactics on their prisoners. Citing the state's twisted interpretation of biblical verses, punishments often include amputation or mutilation.

All citizens, including those sent to be worked to death in the Colonies, must follow only Gilead's own official version of Christianity. No other religion or belief system is tolerated; as Gilead rose to power, those of other faiths and of other Christian denominations were forced to convert under threat of torture and execution. In an episode it is said that Jewish rabbis and Jews in general are sent to the colonies or killed except for fertile women[citation needed]. A Jewish man was hanged on the Wall in an episode in Season 1[citation needed].


Executions are referred to as "Salvagings" and are held in public. People are executed by hanging, with Handmaids being given the rope to hang the condemned together, thus sharing in the "responsibility" of punishing the wicked [14]. The Handmaids are also forced to stone people and beat people to death for various crimes including rape and endangerment of children[9][15]. Isaac and Eden were executed for adultery by being drowned. Those that are spared execution can be sent to the toxic Colonies, where life is short and brutal. The Colonies are often polluted by rubbish and radioactive waste, and those sent there are tasked with cleaning up, eventually falling ill and dying slowly and painfully. Some regard being sent to the Colonies as a fate worse than death, others may say the reverse [16]. Other punishments meted out to those who break Gilead's laws include the surgical removal/amputation of body parts e.g. fingers, hands and eyes (See also: Redemption).


See also: Geography of Gilead


Origins in Society

See also: United States of America, The Takeover

We were asleep before

The idea of a godly society that lets "precious" children grow "in a healthy environment"[17] gained popularity as ecological disasters accumulated, a fertility crisis worsened and birth rates continued to decline, resulting in a common religious revival in the U.S.. Around this time, the pious Sons of Jacob movement began to grow in popularity as American society became increasingly religious and backward-looking. Newspaper clippings indicate a growing tolerance for violence against the LGBT community (“Still no arrests in raid on gay nightclub”) and right-wing demonstrations at abortion clinics [6], as well as dwindling resistance against a government clampdown on civil liberties (“Remaining Privacy Sanctions Lifted”, "Another night of protests”))[18]. In addition, laws are passed which privatized social services[19] and restrictions on birth control are implemented[17].

Political Overthrow

Flashbacks document the start of the Gileadean theocracy with an act of false-flag terrorism at the national Capitol and the White House. Specifically, the attackers succeeded in bombing the White House and firing on the US Capitol building, resulting in the deaths of the (unnamed) US President and most of the cabinet and US Congress members[20]. The National Guard was then called in and martial law was declared[21]. Plans for a similar attack on the US Supreme Court are mentioned[4]. Surviving civil servants later confirmed the government would "continue to function"[20]; flashbacks show a proximity of this government to members of the Sons of Jacob[4].

June states in a retrospect that it was "them" (the Sons of Jacob) who attacked Congress and "temporarily" suspended the constitution[3], which is confirmed in the flashbacks of A Woman's Place)

Rise of Gilead

Although the terrorist attack effectively decapitated most of the U.S. government and supervisory authorities, civil servants confirmed to the Boston Globe a capable government, in which the Sons of Jacob movement apparently succeeded to increase influence[22], during a period of martial law in which the U.S. Constitution was suspended "to chase terrorists[3]".

The regime restricts internet access, June mentions that state-supported 'decency codes' censored online material[citation needed]. Travel restrictions were imposed and borders were closed.[23] A law forbidding women from owning property is declared and American women's bank accounts were frozen; their wealth was transferred to the accounts of their husbands, fathers, or closest male relatives. Working women were dismissed from their jobs: a new paramilitary force systematically cleared women out of all places of employment. Initially there were protest marches and demonstrations against these actions but they were met with violent assault by the emerging government's paramilitary forces[3].

Divorce and homosexuality were outlawed; existing divorce contracts and same-sex marriage licenses were retroactively nullified. As these policies take effect, people who run afoul of the new laws begin to flood American airports in an attempted mass exodus. A scene at Boston's Logan Airport depicts a full-scale military occupation of the airport, with families being separated by immigration and ICE officials as crowds storm the airport in an effort to flee the country[23]. Moira mentions to June that her fiancé, Odette, was rounded up in the “dyke purges,” suggesting that the rising Gileadean regime rounded up gay and lesbian people and killed them or sent them to the Colonies.

Some American government, civilian, and military officials survived the coup and fled to Canada, to the U.S.' two outlying states of Alaska and Hawaii or elsewhere. A new capitol of the U.S. is declared in Anchorage[24]

An official proclamation of the "Republic of Gilead" is implied but not shown.

Media in Gilead

The media and the news are strictly state-run, heavily censored, and often include propaganda to promote the ideals and values of Gilead, whilst demonizing their enemies. As a result, it is difficult to obtain reliable information. To discourage anyone except Commanders and Aunts from reading and writing, public writings or names of any kind, including shop signs, are removed. Information is instead relayed by signs with pictures or pictograms. Anything secular is banned outright and anybody in possession of such items are punished severely, up to and including execution.

Foreign Relations

The series leaves geopolitics in the background and the details of Gilead's contact with the outside world are mostly a mystery.

However, Serena Waterford mentions that Gilead is currently under economic sanctions imposed by the U.N., presumably for human rights violations and the overthrow of the American government. Fred Waterford mentions that the Republic of Gilead is not recognized as a 'sovereign state' by other countries. Scenes in the series depict sparsely-stocked shelves in grocery stores; oranges and 'real' coffee are commodities. These austere conditions suggest that Gilead is suffering from a lack of trade as a result of global sanctions.

Much of Gilead's relations with the outside world are depicted through the limited interactions between Canada and Gilead, the latter's immediate neighbor to the north.

Canada does not have official relations with the Republic of Gilead and its government maintains a close alliance with what is left of the United States, if the presence of a U.S. consulate in Toronto is any indication. Canada accepts refugees fleeing from Gilead, although many are relocated to other countries; the United Kingdom is mentioned as being one such country and there is a mention of several British "Save the Women Societies" working on behalf of female refugees from Gilead.

Newscasts mention that Canada is still recovering from a loss of trade with the fallen United States, and consequently it would appear that certain elements within Canada had sought the possibility of some trade with Gilead or an easing of sanctions but these efforts failed. Canadians find themselves in a difficult diplomatic situation. They are home to a large number of American refugees to U.S. military personnel and are well-aware of Gilead's human rights abuses, but they are also trying to avoid open conflict with their southern neighbor.

Mexican diplomats have visited Gilead although the success (or lack thereof) of that meeting is never explicated. A Swiss diplomat acting as an neutral intermediary between the governments of Canada and Gilead describes the latter as a 'black box,' which is 'extremely powerful, militarily,' suggesting that the outside world has little knowledge of the Gilead's inner workings.

It is also stated during a news broadcast on Radio Free America that China and India are financially aiding the U.S. Government-in-exile (based in Anchorage, Alaska) and Luke Bankole reads that British and Canadian military forces are conducting exercises near the Canada-Gilead border, indicating that the outside world regards Gilead as a rogue state.

By Season 4. Gilead does maintain a Representative office in Canada and maintain trade ties mainly to consumer and products of Food and Fuel. Automotive parts are also imported into Gilead to keep vehicles maintained. Gilead maintains some similar ties with much of the world at a level that Visas to Gilead are only for Business people and their families and are escorted by minders employed by the Eyes It also allows foreign diplomats to visit and probably receives military weapons from other countries on a limited basis. Since Gilead was also illegally formed, all imports are usually paid for by cash by a unknown currency possibly a successor to the US dollar after the US Dollar and foreign currency reserves were spent.

Other Facts

Gilead's names for shops, streets and certain concepts or practices are often derived from scripture. The name Gilead itself is taken from the Bible, referring to several different locations and individuals and generally translated as "hill of testimony."


As Margaret Atwood has explained in various interviews, the "Sons of Jacob" and the "Republic of Gilead" they created, cynically don't actually believe in their own religious propaganda – almost every member of Gilead in a position of power, such as the Commanders, is at various points breaking their own rules, or expressing that they are simply using this as rhetoric. Atwood didn't conceive of Gilead as a Christian totalitarian regime, but a totalitarian fascist regime rising in the United States which happens to use some empty vestiges of Christianity to justify itself.

Atwood looked at the rise of various totalitarian fascist regimes throughout history and concluded that it always rises around some central trappings of national identity, and that in her estimation, the national character of the United States has always been shaped by religious movements. Similarly, Nazi Germany used trappings of past rhetoric about prior Germanic empires such as Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire and the pre-World War I German Empire or latched onto pre-existing European discrimination policies against disempowered groups (Jews, Roma, homosexuals, left-wing/far-left Social Democrats and Communists, anti-Nazi Germans etc.) – but fundamentally, this was just a convenient scapegoat for what was at heart a hyper-nationalist junta that wanted to seize power for itself. Atwood tried to imagine what a totalitarian regime would look like if it took over the United States, and as the saying goes, "When fascism comes to America, it will come carrying a cross and draped in the Stars and Stripes."

Atwood also said that Gilead was partially inspired by the Religious Right's reaction in the 1980s to the Women's Rights movements of the 1970s, during the Reagan years. In particular, Atwood was reacting to large-scale but baseless propaganda being circulated by hard right-wing religious groups that abortion and contraception access was leading to a "white genocide," and that the birthrate among White Americans was sharply declining - despite the fact that there was no evidence to support this, and that census data proved it to be blatantly incorrect.

Atwood's vision of Gilead also draws inspiration from the "utopian idealism" present from 20th-century communist regimes such as Pol Pot's Kampuchea (aka Cambodia) and Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania as well as earlier New England Puritanism, which held a new, "pure" society could be created in a short time (often leading to massive losses in life).


Flags (chronologically)


For the complete geography and detailed map information about Gilead, go to Geography of Gilead.


  1. Episode 8, "Jezebels"
  2. The Committee is requested to introduce the social class of Handmaids, in Episode 1.8, Jezebels
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Episode 1.3, Late
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Episode 1.6, A Woman's Place
  5. 5.0 5.1 Episode 2.5, Seeds
  6. 6.0 6.1 Episode 2.3, Baggage
  7. 7.0 7.1 Episode 1.2, Birth Day
  8. Episode 3.9, Heroic
  9. 9.0 9.1 Episode 1.1, Offred (TV Episode)
  10. see e.g. Eden Blaine, in Seeds
  11. Episode 3.1, Night
  12. XII Jezebels, Section 31
  13. Novel, Historical Notes
  14. Episode 3.7, Under His Eye
  15. Episode 1.10, "Night"
  16. E.g. Aunt Lydia in June (Episode)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Terms used in a discussion about parental capacity, flashback of episode 2.1, June
  18. See June's clipping wall
  19. Flashback of episode Unfit
  20. 20.0 20.1 Boston Globe article: In the aftermath of Americas bloodiest day
  21. Episode 2.1, "June (TV Episode)"
  22. Flashbacks in ep. A Woman's Place show Commanders as U.S. officials in the aftermath of the attacks
  23. 23.0 23.1 Episode 2.2, "Unwomen"
  24. Episode 1.2, "Birth Day"