‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: A Guide to the Terms That Define Gilead

Commanders? Marthas? The Colonies? Here's a lexicon to understand this strange new world.
"The Handmaid's Tale"
"The Handmaid's Tale"

Editor’s Note: This post is presented in support of Hulu’s original series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Watch new episodes on Wednesdays, streaming only on Hulu.

A lot about the world we see depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale” might look familiar: the buildings, the men’s suits, the supermarket aisles. But look a little closer at the details — the lack of printed words, the cold attitudes and of course the women, uniformed according to class status, never seen walking alone — and you’ll see that while the nation of Gilead feels startling relevant, there are some distinct differences from our world.

READ MORE: The Handmaid’s Tale’ Renewed for Season 2 — How the Hulu Adaptation Will Use Margaret Atwood’s Novel to Go for Years

The phrases below are drawn from both the Hulu original series and the original novel written by Margaret Atwood, and should hopefully serve as a helpful guide if you’re confused by some of the new phrases being tossed around. Being confused is totally fine. Just keep reminding yourself: This is not normal.

Gilead: The country formerly known as the United States of America, now under new rule.

Sons of Jacob: The organization which went from an underground movement to the ruling political party leading Gilead.

Handmaids: Fertile women whose survival is dependent on bearing the children of Gilead’s leadership. They surrender their real names upon assignment, instead referred to as “Of” plus the first name of their commander, such as our heroine Offred (Elisabeth Moss). Their signature color is red.

Commanders: The men who lead the Sons of Jacob. Their uniforms are typically black.

Wives: The women married to the Commanders, who (if they’ve been assigned a Handmaid) have proven incapable of bearing children. Their signature color is blue.

Marthas: Women who serve the households of Commanders as maids and cooks. Their signature color is green.

Aunts: Older women responsible for the training and discipline of Handmaids and other girls living in this world. They have the most authority of any woman in this society. Their signature color is brown or khaki.

Eyes: Spies and enforcers who closely monitor the behavior of Gilead residents for any sign of impropriety. Largely unseen, except for the black vans which roam the streets.

Angels: Soldiers for the nation of Gilead.

“Blessed Be the Fruit”: The standard greeting amongst Gilead residents. The traditional reply is “May the Lord open.”

“Under His Eye”: The Gileadean equivalent of “Aloha” — it works as both a hello and a goodbye.

The Ceremony: The term used to describe the monthly event where Commanders attempt to impregnate Handmaids (who lie between the legs of the Commander’s Wife the whole time). It is… awkward.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- "Offred" - Episode 101 - Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
“The Handmaid’s Tale”Hulu

The Rachel and Leah Center: Also referred to as “the Red Center,” it’s here that the Handmaids received their initial “training” by the Aunts.

Tokens: The coupons which Handmaids and other women use to shop at the stores still open under Gilead rule. They feature no text (much like the product labels for which they can be exchanged), because in Gilead, women are forbidden from reading.

Gender traitors: How Gilead classifies gay men and women. It is, as you might guess, a criminal state of being.

Particicution: A brutal execution in which Handmaids are given free reign to do what they want to an prisoner of the state. The result is usually death by mass beating.

The Colonies: Toxic wastelands to which banishment represents a death sentence. The women who serve as Handmaids often choose to do so because it’s preferable to working to clean up the Colonies (the only other option presented to them by the nation of Gilead).

Unwomen: The type of woman who ends up working in the Colonies.

Freedom: A relic of the past.

New episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiere Wednesdays on Hulu. The first three are available to stream now. 

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