Summary: Part III: Hymn
The author of “The Ardua Hall Holograph” reflects on the appearance of her aging body. She explains that though she used to be “handsome,” but now the best word to describe her look would be “imposing.” She also wonders how her story will end. She wonders whether she’ll die of old age, or if the state will execute her. She recognizes that she still has some choice in how she’ll die, which is “freedom of a sort.”
Once again addressing the reader, the narrator explicitly reveals her identity as Aunt Lydia, a legendary figure who serves as a “model of moral perfection” yet has become tainted by power. She also notes that before Gilead, she was a family court judge.
Aunt Lydia writes this installment on Easter. She describes the meal the Aunts shared at Ardua Hall, where she saw Aunt Elizabeth take one more egg than her share. She also describes how she led the Prayer of Grace, which ends with a motto she wrote herself: Per Ardua Cum Estrus. It brings her pleasure that the other Aunts don’t know for sure what the motto means but that they nonetheless repeat the words piously.
Aunt Lydia notes how she has used the figure known as Baby Nicole as a propaganda tool. Baby Nicole is the name of an infant who, many years prior, was successfully smuggled out of Gilead and into Canada. Ever since that infamous event, Aunt Lydia has mobilized Baby Nicole’s image in various ways to manipulate the emotions of people in Gilead. Aunt Lydia remarks that Baby Nicole still has “a brilliant future.”
After the Easter meal, she retreated into the depths of the library. She has a private inner sanctum there with a small personal library of forbidden books as well as a set of files containing the secret histories of Gilead. It is in this sanctum that Aunt Lydia composes her manuscript, which she keeps hidden inside a copy of Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, meaning “A Defence of One’s Life.” She reflects on the appropriateness of the book’s title. Like Cardinal Newman, she is writing to defend her life.
Summary: Part IV: The Clothes Hound
Part IV shifts to a new narrator named Daisy, who is giving testimony about her involvement in “this whole story.” Her narrative is entitled “Transcript of Witness Testimony 369B.” Daisy begins her story just before what she thought was her sixteenth birthday, around the time she discovered that everything in her life was a lie.