Lydia Clements, known to those in the dystopian society of Gilead in the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale simply as Aunt Lydia, is a frightening, menacing, extremely strict teacher to the handmaids. She is responsible for ensuring that they adhere to the rules of the nation, do their duties, and follow their indoctrination. She takes care of them when they are with child and punishes them when they commit a purported sin.
While Aunt Lydia’s backstory gave some perspective into why she is the way she is, and why she believes that the Gilead way of life is the answer to societal problems, it still doesn’t excuse many of the horrifying things she has done.
Updated on October 14, 2022 by Christine Persaud:
Aunt Lydia has had one of the most interesting character arcs in The Handmaid’s Tale. While she is seemingly coming to a realization that not all in Gilead is right and just, she still has plenty of evil acts to look back on. Fans may begin to sympathize with Aunt Lydia, who could become a fierce ally for the handmaids still living in Gilead. But before this awakening, she made some crucial mistakes that have fans questioning her character and humanity.
Reporting Noelle to Child Services
Despite being upset about Noelle, a mother to one of her grade 4 students pre-Gilead, being somewhat negligent, Lydia eventually formed a friendly bond with her. She’d have dinner with the mother and the boy Ryan, exchange Christmas gifts, and even confide in one another. While she turned up her nose at Noelle’s behavior, like working in a bar and dating married men, she cast those aside for companionship.
That is until Lydia had an awakening after almost getting intimate with the school principal and realizing her own weakness and shame. She took matters into her own hands and reported Noelle to child services, noting the frequent late pick-ups, unhealthy lunches, and dirty clothes on the child. Noelle wasn’t a model single parent. But she also didn’t deserve to lose her son without being given a chance to correct the behavior, nor did the boy deserve to lose his mother and be sent into foster care.
Removed Janine’s Eye
Never, ever talk back to Aunt Lydia, or question the system, as she’s easily one of the most villainous characters in The Handmaid’s Tale. When Janine, one of the handmaids, did just that, she was punished. Janine didn’t like the idea that handmaids, young and fertile women, would be tasked with bearing children for the barren wives of the Commanders. But Aunt Lydia didn’t like when anyone questioned her or Gilead, and she made an example out of the young woman.
To that, Aunt Lydia shocked Janine with her trusty cattle prod and had her right eye removed. Looking back after dealing with almost losing Janine, it’s clear Aunt Lydia has finally come to realize that it was wrong.
Blaming Janine For Being Assaulted
When Janine was forced to confess her “sins,” talking about how she was sexually assaulted, Aunt Lydia turned it around on her. She told her that she brought the act on herself and made all the other handmaids agree and blame her. When faced with a similar situation with Esther, Aunt Lydia, before believing the young girl’s story, asked if she had done anything to suggest to Commander Putnam that she was interested in engaging in a sexual relationship outside of the ceremony.
While it makes Aunt Lydia seem cruel to say such a thing, especially to another woman, she truly believes she is right.
Sending Girls to the Colonies
When a girl simply can’t work as a handmaid, and isn’t cut out for being a Martha or has done something bad, she gets hanged or sent away to Gilead’s version of jail. It’s called the Colonies, a place where women must undergo full days of non-stop hard labor in terrible conditions.
Malnourished, dehydrated, sick with infections, sores, and other diseases from the pollution and radioactive waste, they are essentially sent there to work until they die. And it’s Aunt Lydia who makes the call about who and when they go. After Aunt Lydia showed the handmaids a video of the Colonies as a scare tactic, the thought of going there for being a Gender Traitor was so horrific for Moira that she opted to become a Jezebel instead. Emily managed to survive, but not before dealing with the harsh conditions.
Having Handmaids Whipped
Aunt Lydia has ordered countless handmaids to be whipped until there are scars covering every inch of their skin. June/Offred herself was taken back to the Red Center to be whipped on Aunt Lydia’s orders after she attempted and failed to escape. As a fitting punishment, Aunt Lydia had Aunt Elizabeth whip the soles of June’s feet so she wouldn’t think about trying to escape again.
It was downright cruel and showed no respect for the handmaids as women or even as people. Indeed, people are not equal under the eyes of their laws, one of the most terrifying laws in Gilead on The Handmaid’sTale. Yet Aunt Lydia felt this was suitable punishment for the women she was tasked with nurturing and protecting.
In a fit of anger after June quoted a bible verse to Aunt Lydia in response to her prompting that the handmaid “remember her scripture,” Aunt Lydia began to violently taze June. First, however, she hit her with the cattle prod. Ironically, the violence was stopped by Serena who stepped in declaring that June was pregnant. Once a handmaid is pregnant, this is the only time Aunt Lydia will fawn over her like a special child and would never think to hurt her.
This suggests Aunt Lydia views the handmaids as mere vessels, not actual human beings. It’s further implied when she visits the hospital, furious that the procedure to harvest a near-death Esther’s uterus was canceled.
Almost Hanging the Handmaids
Aunt Lydia has the handmaids taken to an abandoned Fenway Park and made to stand in front nooses, their heads inside. A lever is pulled, but nothing happens. It was all a scare tactic, designed to ensure that the handmaids would never speak out again. She saved them from being killed by guards when they failed to stone Janine to death for purportedly endangering a child. But threatening death by hanging is cruel on its own.
Scare tactics are a common strategy employed by Aunt Lydia who believes the women need to be put in their places and simply do the jobs that God intended them to do, which is bear children.
After the aforementioned death by hanging fake-out, Aunt Lydia then had all the girls sit in the pouring rain, holding a rock. She went by each, one by one, electrocuting them. Again, June/Offred was spared because she was pregnant. But the other girls were not so lucky.
She wasn’t finished there, though. Once inside and soaking wet, each girl was chained to the stove, one by one as their wrists were burned. To Aunt Lydia, this punishment is not too harsh at all when it comes to insubordination. One of the things fans might not have noticed about Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale is that violence is one of her driving forces. It’s yet another tactic she used that suggested she viewed the women like cattle, not like humans.
Putting June Into Solitary Confinement
Just because June was pregnant didn’t mean that she was completely off limits to punishment. Of course, Aunt Lydia wouldn’t dare physically harm her in that state. But she did have backup methods. No handmaid was free from her wrath, pregnant or not.
Instead, she placed a defiant June, who had tried to escape a second time, in an empty room by herself until she was ready to listen. She was chained up, with just a bed to sleep on and a floral bedspread that kept her busy as she counts the flowers on it. Even Aunt Lydia should have recognized that putting her in such a stressed mental state wouldn’t be good for the baby, yet she had to make sure handmaids were punished in whatever way they could be.
While Aunt Lydia seems to have an affection for Janine at times, she certainly doesn’t show it at others. Infuriated when Janine not only broke protocol and approached the Putnams to hold her biological daughter, but then also begged to go back to their home, Aunt Lydia began beating her uncontrollably.
June finally jumped in to protect Janine, who might very well have been beaten to death. This isn’t the first time viewers have seen Aunt Lydia prone to angry outbursts, and it’s clear it’s something she struggled with pre-Gilead as well, as per the scene after her failed date when she smashed her hands into her bathroom mirror.
While Aunt Lydia isn’t specifically shown to be the one to order this punishment, as the one in charge of the handmaids, she clearly had something to do with it.
Considered a Gender Traitor, Ofglen, who was in a same-sex marriage prior to being captured, needed to be punished. But they don’t want to kill her since she’s fertile. So the fitting punishment? She is taken to a medical facility where she is forced to have a clitorectomy so she can no longer enjoy sex. Aunt Lydia, upon seeing her after the operation, declared that Ofglen “won’t want what she cannot have.” It’s arguably the worst thing Aunt Lydia has done on The Handmaid’s Tale.
Leaving Esther With Commander Putnam
The turning point for Aunt Lydia was when she reluctantly left Esther with Commander Putnam in his office during Fred’s funeral. The look on her face suggested she suspected what was going to happen but tried to ignore it. Later when it was revealed that he sexually assaulted Esther, resulting in a pregnancy and Esther’s attempted suicide, Aunt Lydia came to terms with the fact that she had a role to play in it.
Fueling the guilt was when Esther angrily screamed to Aunt Lydia that she knows very well that every commander does it and just turns a blind eye, despite all her beliefs. It’s this moment that could mark a major change for the character.
NEXT: One Quote That Sums Up Each Main Character’s Personality On The Handmaid’s Tale