As soon as Aunt Lydia walks into a room, you know something terrifying is about to happen, or at least be said, even if it doesn’t seem to be all that terrifying initially.
Aunt Lydia, real name Lydia Clements (played beautifully by the Emmy-winning Ann Dowd), is the woman in charge of the network of handmaids within the dystopian society of Gilead in the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. To say she’s strict is an understatement. She fiercely believes that her “girls” have been given a gift, saved from the unrighteousness of the modern world and designed for one sole purpose: to bear children for the barren wives of the Commanders.
Disagree with her views, and those of Gilead, and she won’t flinch to take out your eye, have you whipped, or stick you with her trusty cattle prod.
She’s not to be trifled with, as is evidenced in these, some of her most terrifying quotes from the series thus far.
10 This Will Become Ordinary
“I know this must feel so strange, but ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not be ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.”
What makes this statement so frightening is that, in a way, Aunt Lydia is right. Live a certain way long enough and it becomes normalized. If the handmaids continue to do their duties as ordered, eventually, if enough time passes, they may forget what it was like to live in a free, democratic world.
Aunt Lydia believes that what is being done in Gilead isn’t wrong, it’s just different, and not what the girls are used to. But it’s completely normal, and eventually, they’ll figure that out.
9 Ungrateful Girl
“The most painful thing is not the betrayal of trust, June. Do you know what’s most painful? The most painful thing in this entire ugly incident is the ingratitude.”
After June/Offred tries to escape, Aunt Lydia is more disappointed than anything. In her eyes, June doesn’t realize everything Gilead is doing for her. She’s helping the greater good! Somehow, the despicable nature of forcing women to have intercourse with men (while their wives sickeningly sit behind them to simulate that it’s them being penetrated), then making them carry and immediately give up a child is lost on Aunt Lydia.
She can’t quite comprehend why the handmaids are not thanking her for all she does, even when she doles out physical abuse at the drop of a hat.
8 Society Messed Up
“They made such a mess of everything. They filled the air with chemicals and radiation and poison! So, God whipped up a special plague. The plague of infertility… as birthrates fell, they made things worse. Birth control pills, morning-after pills, murdering babies. Just so they could have their orgies, their Tinder.”
Aunt Lydia’s description of society pre- and outside of Gilead is accurate. And she believes that it is all of these gross acts that led to God punishing women (and men) with infertility. Interestingly, God didn’t punish many women Aunt Lydia believes to be the worst offenders, including those who practiced infidelity or were lesbians, and remained fertile.
To her, it’s because they were meant to serve as handmaids. So really, she blames the girls. Had they not been promiscuous, smoking, taking drugs, and using dating apps like Tinder for one-night hook-ups, perhaps Gilead wouldn’t have had to exist.
7 No More Sins
“You won’t want what you cannot have.”
It’s not the line so much that is frightening as it is why and when she said it. Aunt Lydia speaks these words to Ofglen right after she was forced to have a clitoridectomy as punishment for being what they call a Gender Traitor. Normally, the punishment would be death, or being sent to The Colonies, but since Ofglen had working ovaries and could still bear children, she was spared.
Aunt Lydia wanted to make sure that Ofglen was fully aware of her duty as a handmaid and could never again get pleasure from the experience, either while performing the act for the family to which she was assigned, or escaping for secret trysts with female lovers. It’s scary and despicable on so many levels.
6 Remember Your Scripture
“Remember your scripture. Blessed are the meek.”
When Offred/June talks back to Aunt Lydia, the terrifying lady calmly says this line to put the handmaid back in her place. It is the handmaid’s role to be submissive, and she should respect that. But Offred, an often outspoken thorn in Aunt Lydia’s side, throws it right back at her and replies “and blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
Aunt Lydia didn’t take well to this and proceeded to beat Offred with her cattle prod until Serena stopped her, declaring that Offred was pregnant.
5 You Are Here For a Purpose
“They were dirty women. They were sluts. But you are special girls. Fertility is a gift given right from God. He left you intact for a Bibical purpose… you guys will serve the leaders of the faithful and their barren wives. You will bear children for them. Ohh! You are so lucky! So privileged!”
The enthusiasm in Aunt Lydia’s voice when she delivers this terrifying speech to newly-recruited handmaids sitting would make you think that she was preparing these women for a new semester of school and about to hand out donuts and coffee. But she was actually preparing them to become completely submissive, active participants in bearing children for other women.
As noted, she believes this to be the true purpose for handmaids. It’s the only explanation, after all, for why God might have made so many other upstanding women infertile.
4 The World is Ugly
“The world can be quite an ugly place. But we cannot wish that ugliness away. We cannot hide from that ugliness.”
As we learned from Aunt Lydia’s backstory, which was revealed in season 3, even before entering Gilead, she was upset with the state of the world. As a teacher to grade 4 students, she witnessed neglectful parenting first-hand, sad that these women were graced with children while so many other loving parents were struggling.
In her eyes, God punished society with infertility, and it’s her job to gather fertile women like cattle, assign them to families, and force them to have intercourse with the husbands to bear children that the barren wives would then claim as their own. But to her, that is the first step to rebuilding a rightful world, not an ugly one.
3 Blessed Day, My A**
“Ah, blessed day.”
Three words. Just three. They represent a common greeting among people in Gilead, and there’s nothing really out of the ordinary about these words. In fact, they sound quite pleasant. Yet when Aunt Lydia walks into or leaves a room uttering them, you can feel your skin crawl.
She doesn’t have to say much. But just her greeting lets you know something awful is very likely about to happen, or maybe already has.
2 Be Good, Not Perfect
“One cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
After Offred gives birth to her daughter (who soon becomes Mrs. Waterford’s daughter) she is left to sit in a room, pumping breast milk to cart back to Serena to feed “her” baby. But her supply is running low, naturally, as it would without having the baby actually suckle to your breast. Serena, however, doesn’t want that. She doesn’t want Offred to have any interaction with “her” baby.
When Aunt Lydia says they must respect those wishes, Offred calls her out, saying she promised she would look after the baby. Aunt Lydia’s response says just how she feels. Serena is the baby’s mother now. And while having Offred nurse would be the ideal situation, it’s up to the “mother” to make the decisions about what’s best for the baby.
1 Know Your Place
“Soon you will be leaving us for new homes, a new family. And they won’t judge you for your looks, or your clothes or your ability to sound clever.”
Aunt Lydia always has a way with words. While she is often challenged by Offred, there’s always a reason why she can’t outright mutilate or otherwise punish the handmaid. But she makes sure that Offred understands her place, often speaking to her as though she were her own daughter.
In this line, she lets Offred know that while she might have gotten away with things in her current house by seducing the Commander or with clever and witty words, that’s not going to work in her new home. So buck up and know your place!