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In the Republic of Gilead, Aunt Lydia works in the Red Centre as one of the crack female control agents known as the “Aunts”. There, she works as a propaganda minister, brainwashing the potential Handmaids to be content with their roles within Gilead. Entrusted with such a prestigious job it’s easy to imagine Aunt Lydia to have unequivocal devotion to the Gilead regime – but upon closer inspection, Aunt Lydia’s faith may not be so clear-cut. For the initial chapters, Aunt Lydia is a hazy character – Offred offers a few of her quotes occasionally in relevant situations, but no description of her appearance or demeanour.
The most famous of these quotes is “There is more than one kind of freedom – freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are given freedom from. Don’t underrate it. ” Taken at face value, Aunt Lydia means that before Gilead women had the freedom to have promiscuous sex, have abortions, smoke, drink, etcetera, and in Gilead they are given ‘freedom’ from rape, mugging, assault and so on. But could she mean that in the days before Gilead women were given freedom to speak their minds, freedom to express themselves, and so on? At this stage it’s unclear.
In Chapter Five, Offred recalls Aunt Lydia’s quote “To be seen – to be seen – is to be penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable. ” This ambiguous statement could mean to be impenetrable from the eyes of strangers, but also to be impenetrable from Gilead’s ways and influences. Another of Aunt Lydia’s ominous quotes is “Some day, when times improve, no one will have to be an Econowife. ” This could mean that everyone will enjoy the decadent lifestyles of the Commanders and their Wives, or it could mean that the Gilead period will come to an end and pre-Gilead life will resume.
The first detailed description of Aunt Lydia is in Chapter 8. Whilst Aunt Lydia is telling the Handmaids to be wary of the Wives, Offred recalls: “Here her voice broke off, and there was a pause… Aunt Lydia might look abstracted but she was aware of every twitch. ” It’s possible that Aunt Lydia is reflecting on her position in Gilead – a once proud woman is reduced to teaching Gilead’s only fertile women that the country’s most powerful women are defeated women. It’s difficult to imagine her being happy in such a situation. This is further emphasised by Offred’s next recollection – “The future is in your hands, she resumed.
She held her own hands out to us. In your hands, she said, looking down at her own hands as if they had given her the idea. But there was nothing in them. They were empty. ” It sounds as though Aunt Lydia realises that the future is not in her hands – that her part in Gilead is nowhere near as important as the young women she is brainwashing. One of Aunt Lydia’s more telling episodes occurs in Chapter Ten. She describes to the Handmaids how, in the time before, sunbathing in public was a common occurrence. Offred describes: “She blinked, the light was too strong for her, her mouth trembled, around her front teeth.
Don’t think it’s easy for me, said Aunt Lydia. ” It’s clear that Aunt Lydia has difficulty talking with such disgust at the thought of public sunbathing. Is she really so outraged at the memory, or is she finding it difficult to talk with such false disgust at something that was once taken for granted? Later on in the novel, Moira and Offred talk in the toilets of the Red Centre, and Moira makes a crude remark about Aunt Lydia’s relationship with Janine. Offred responds with horror, to which Moira replies “You know you’ve thought it.
” Looking back at Aunt Lydia’s ‘freedom to and freedom from’ quote, could she also have been referring to homosexuality, considering the harsh punishments for Gender Traitors in Gilead? On the other hand, it is difficult to find double-meanings in several of Aunt Lydia’s quote and episodes, such as the Salvaging, where Offred describes Aunt Lydia trembling with rage at the Guardian accused of rape, knowing full well that he is a political prisoner. When reading these passages, Offred presents Aunt Lydia as a woman who truly believes in her cause and is devoted to Gilead.
Therein lies the problem, as Aunt Lydia is presented entirely through Offred’s eyes, complete with her spite and malice toward Aunt Lydia. It is difficult to be sure what Aunt Lydia’s true feelings are toward the Gileadean regime – at times the reader feels that Aunt Lydia is deeply unhappy in her position, but at other times you feel she truly believes the propaganda she preaches. She is an ambiguous character that can be taken in make ways. There’s a feeling that Aunt Lydia has convinced herself that she believes in Gilead, although her mind isn’t completely brainwashed, as seen in her episode where she talks about public sunbathing.
Her momentary lapses in belief are outnumbered by passionate lectures against women’s sordid lives during the Time Before, as it is easier to convince herself to believe in the Gileadean regime rather than meander through her life unhappily and unable to change anything. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Margaret Atwood section.