Summary: Part XV: Fox and Cat
Aunt Lydia discusses how much useful information she’s gleaned over the years from the microphones secretly installed throughout Ardua Hall. She recalls how her finely tuned bugs allowed her to overhear when Becka finally opened up to Agnes about the foundational trauma that made her frightened of men. In bits and pieces, Becka told Agnes about how her father, Dr. Grove, had routinely molested her. Aunt Lydia knew that many of Gilead’s powerful men behaved horrifically and got away with it, but she decided that Dr. Grove’s actions demanded retribution.
Aunt Lydia invited Aunt Elizabeth to tea. She asked her colleague whether she considered herself a fox or a cat. Aunt Lydia was referring to characters in Aesop’s Fables. Whereas the fox had many tricks up its sleeves to get out of dangerous situations, the cat had only one: “When in extremis, I know how to climb a tree.” In the story, the cat comes out with the upper hand. Not knowing how to answer, Aunt Elizabeth responded uncertainly: “Maybe a cat.” Aunt Lydia accepted her answer and described Aunt Vidala’s attempt to frame her for the statue offerings. Aunt Elizabeth expressed gratitude for the information about Aunt Vidala’s treachery. In exchange for this information, Aunt Lydia asked Aunt Elizabeth if she would bear false witness about something.
Summary: Part XVI: Pearl Girls
Daisy, now going by the alias “Jade,” dressed in ratty clothing and went with Garth into the city. They planned to live and sleep in the streets, where they would pretend to be in an abusive relationship in order to attract the attention of Pearl Girls missionaries. Garth instructed Daisy in how to act like a homeless person. She struggled to say things she didn’t mean, but when the Pearl Girls showed her kindness and tried to convince her to come with them, she shed real tears.
So as not to let Daisy appear too easily won over, Garth drove the Pearl Girls away. He and Daisy spent the next several days sleeping in various locations and eating fast food. On the fifth day, the Pearl Girls reappeared. Daisy pretended that Garth abused her, and the Pearl Girls made a deal to buy her away from him. He left without saying goodbye, and Daisy accompanied the missionaries back to their condo. There the Pearl Girls fed Daisy, allowed her to shower, and gave her fresh clothing. They explained how she would pose as a Pearl Girl to get out of Canada. It took a couple of days to prepare the necessary travel papers, then Daisy and one of the missionaries boarded a plane for Gilead.
After they landed, a group of men greeted them on the tarmac. Daisy’s escort cautioned her not to look the men in the face. She focused on their uniforms, but she felt the men’s gaze intensely. A car then drove the two women to Ardua Hall, where a ceremony was already underway in the chapel to celebrate the return of Pearl Girls and their “Pearls,” or converts. Aunt Lydia stood on the pulpit and gave a welcome speech then instructed the Pearl Girls to present the Pearls they had gathered. Daisy’s Pearl Girl escorted her to the front, where Aunt Lydia placed a hand on her head and welcomed her.
Analysis: Parts XV–XVI
The shocking revelation of Becka’s foundational trauma builds the sense of the corruption that persists below Gilead’s apparently pious surface. Aunt Lydia describes how her vast network of surveillance equipment allowed her to listen in as Agnes coaxed Becka to explain what had turned her against men. Given the deeply traumatic nature of her experience, Becka was unable to tell her story in a single sitting, but eventually she revealed that her own father, the respectable dentist Dr. Grove, had sexually abused her since she was a very young child. Agnes herself experienced sexual abuse at Dr. Grove’s hands when she went for an appointment in Part VI. Aunt Lydia knew that Dr. Grove had a reputation for molesting young girls. However, the revelation that he had turned his pedophilic predilections against his own daughter proved too much for her. Although she has witnessed significant male corruption over the years, she felt unwilling to let this crime go unpunished. Aunt Lydia here returns to her former role as a judge to pronounce a silent guilty verdict against Dr. Grove, merely one representative of the underlying corruption in Gilead.
Just as Agnes found a sense of agency in Part XIV by learning how to act, in Part XVI, Daisy also learns the power of performance. From the outset, it was clear that Mayday’s plan would only work if Daisy learned how to act. That is, she would only be able to survive her journey into and back out of Gilead if she could convincingly perform the role of a penitent and reformed convert. Yet when she and Garth first set out on their mission to get Daisy “converted” by a pair of Pearl Girls, she found it difficult to inhabit the role she’d been cast to play. On the streets, she felt like a fraud when she tried saying things Garth told her a homeless person might say. As such, she could not deliver a convincing performance. However, things changed for Daisy the first time she encountered the Pearl Girls. They spoke to her with what seemed like genuine kindness, and even though Daisy suspected them of acting, their performance truly moved her. Ironically, the Pearl Girls were the only people who seemed to view the humanity in Daisy, and after being used as a pawn by Mayday, she found something touching in their apparent concern. Daisy found a way leverage this kernel of true feeling and turn it into a tearful performance that fully convinced her audience.
Upon her arrival in Gilead, Daisy immediately and intensely felt the power of patriarchal oppression. A group of men had assembled on the tarmac to greet her as she got off the plane. Daisy followed her escort’s instruction not to look at the men, but she nevertheless felt their gaze on her. As she puts it in her testimony, she sensed “eyes, eyes, eyes,” which felt like hands touching her body. Daisy’s repetition of the word “eyes” recalls the name of Gilead’s intelligence agency, the Eyes of God, as well as the traditional Gileadean blessing, “Under His Eye.” Yet given her outsider perspective, Daisy experiences the gaze of male eyes not as a blessing but as a violation, the likes of which she had never felt before. In her testimony, she explains that the men’s eyes threatened sexual aggression: “I’d never felt so much at risk in that way—not even under the bridge with Garth, and with strangers all around.” In this way, Daisy’s arrival in Gilead gave her first-hand experience of the Republic’s male-dominant regime and confirmed her suspicion that Gileadean men actively oppressed women.