“As for my husband, he's just that: My husband, till death do us part. It's one of the things we fought for.”
However, it appears that the Wives (and Aunts) have a considerable amount of power and influence in the Republic of Gilead (especially over the Handmaids and other people of both genders, below the Wives) and many of the Wives have played a major role in the establishment of the Republic of Gilead, especially in creating and implementing Gilead's draconian religious laws, constitution, and stems for control
Wives wear modest clothing in varying shades of Teal, the darker the shade the more powerful the Wife (Blue in the book relating to the Virgin Mary). If their husband dies, they wear all black, including black veils, in mourning.
Wives are usually married to high ranking men in Gilead, such as Commanders, Angels and Eyes. Being a Wife is regarded as a high honor in Gilead. Only women perceived as being 'pure' and moral are given the 'privilege' of marrying. (Handmaids, for example, could never be Wives, due to their controversial nature). Many Wives in the early days of Gilead were supporters of Gilead's creation or married to the men who became Gilead's founders and leaders. It would later be revealed that the Wives were also the major architects in creating and building the Republic of Gilead, especially in creating Gilead's draconian religious laws and strict class/caste system. It is implied that some Wives are capable of bearing children, but most are older women and thus have difficulty conceiving (or their husbands are infertile), which is also hampered by widespread infertility. As a result, Wives have to 'share' their husbands with Handmaids, in order to get a child. Later Wives have arranged marriages once they come of age.
Wives fortunate enough to have children are tasked with raising them. However, many Wives are childless and, not being permitted to work and having Marthas to do housework for them, they are often left stuck at home with little to do, since they cannot even read. Some Wives take up hobbies such as knitting or gardening. June Osborne, as Offred, observes that all the Wives knit scarves “for the Angels at the front lines,”, and wonders if the scarves actually get used, or if they just give the Wives something to do . Wives frequently visit other Wives to gossip. She mentions that some Wives feign sickness so that fellow Wives will come to see them and give them attention. All in all, being a Wife without children is dull, monotonous and lonely.
Many Wives become bitter and resentful; many of them are also jealous of the Handmaids due to their ability to conceive and the fact they must share their husbands with them. Wives can sometimes be quite cruel to Handmaids assigned to them and some have even been known to attack them. That being said, some Wives are so desperate for children that they will form covert alliances with their Handmaids, arranging for them to sleep with other men to ensure they get pregnant and offering them contraband items or other forbidden luxuries, or sometimes information, in exchange for favors.
Despite their high rank in Gilead, Wives are also constrained in several ways. If they try to help out around the home, Marthas will dislike them for taking their jobs away from them, and their husband will be displeased for her sullying her appearance.
Below is a list of the fourteen Wives that have been mentioned or portrayed in either the novel, the movie or the TV series.
|Mrs. Allston||Wife of Commander Alston. Her husband's Handmaid, Ofandy, gives birth to a stillborn girl, and Mrs. Allston becomes enraged.||Alive||TV Series|
|Caroline||Attends to the Putnams during the birth of baby Angela.||Alive||TV series|
|Mrs. Calhoun||Wife of Commander Calhoun, to whom the handmaid Ofmatthew is assigned to.||Alive||TV series|
|Eleanor Lawrence||Wife of Commander Lawrence, to whom Emily was briefly reassigned after Commander Roy's death, and to whom June was reassigned after that. Died from a suicidal overdose of medication.||Deceased||TV series|
|Emma Monroe||Wife of Commander Monroe, to whom Janine is reassigned after Angela's birth.||Alive||TV series|
|Esther Keyes||Young Wife of an seemingly older Commander. She runs a farm somewhere in Gilead and dualistic with her calm exterior and her tense interior. She is arrested and captured by Gilead after it is discovered that she provided aid to June Osborne and her allies.||Alive; active||TV Series|
|Grace Scott||A kind Wife, willing to fake illness so her Handmaid can skip the Ceremony.||Alive||TV series|
|Leah||Possibly the Wife of Commander Chambers.||Alive||TV series|
|Tabitha/Mrs. MacKenzie||First Wife of Commander MacKenzie (or Commander Kyle in the second novel) and adoptive mother of Hannah. (Agnes)||Alive (TV Series)
|Mrs. O'Conner||Sent to the Colonies as an Unwoman for adultery; She was later murdered by Emily with poison for holding down a girl to be violently raped by her husband just like every wife in Gilead.||Deceased||TV series|
|Mrs. Webber||Wife of Commander Webber; expresses an interest in having June reassigned to her household.||Alive||TV series||Unseen character|
|Naomi Putnam||Wife of Commander Putnam. Constantly seen with Serena Joy. Especially worried about her status.||Alive||Novel
|Unnamed in the novel and film|
|Serena Joy Waterford||Wife of Commander Waterford. She's one of Gilead's strongest supporters, but her background however changes according to the media she is portrayed. In the TV Series, she along with Fred Waterford are in Canadian custody for war crimes and crimes against humanity.||Alive; active (Novel and Film)
Alive; in Canadian custody (TV Series)
|Shunammite Judd||One of B. Frederick Judd's long list of child-Wives.||Alive||Novels|
|Sonia Cushing||Formerly close to the Waterfords along with her husband.||Alive||TV series||Unseen character|
|Widow of Commander Roy, to whom Emily is briefly assigned after being returned from the Colonies.||Alive; widowed||TV series|
|Olivia Winslow||Widow of High Commander Winslow||Alive; widowed||TV Series|
|Paula Saunders||Widow of Commander Saunders, later wife of Commander Kyle.||Alive; widowed||Novels|
|Mrs. Deeds||Wife of Commander Deeds. Executed along with her husband following the Red Center Attack||Deceased||TV Series||Unseen character|