Throughout The Handmaid’s Tale so far, we get Offred’s own accounts of her experiences. Similar to what we saw in Persepolis, this allows the reader to understand more intimately what the narrator has gone through, but it also colors the reader’s perceptions of characters and events. Two types of characters, in particular, stand out as enemies of Offred because of their imposing and authoritative tendencies that restrict Offred’s own authenticity. The Aunts control every action of the handmaids and are presented as evil and controlling, but we receive glimpses of their own backstories that add to the complexity of each character. Aunt Helen, for example, was once the head of a Weight Watcher’s franchise but is now described as fat by Offred. One can infer that the narrator decided to include Aunt Helen’s physical appearance to show that a person’s role does not define their character. Although the Aunts have significantly more autonomy than the handmaids, they are still grievously oppressed.
The female with the most autonomy and power that we are aware of currently is Serena Joy, who had once been an outspoken proponent for the domesticity of women as stay-at-home wives, under the presumption that women have a duty to serve their husbands. Now that Joy is finally doing her “duty,” she does not appear to enjoy it as much as she would have expected, especially during the vulgar “fucking” scene. Offred acknowledges Joy’s sentiments when she says “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” on page 95, indicating that both Offred and Joy share restraints on freedom and miseries. At least previously, Joy had the freedom to choose the life she wanted, but now that she is deprived of simple human privileges, it is hard to view Joy as an enemy.
the Aunts and Serena Joy’s roles in an oppressed society is not purely fiction. During WWII, many Jews who were put in concentration camps grappled with similar problems of authority. Not all individuals in concentration camps were treated equally. Certain Jews were given opportunities to hold leadership positions. While this would give these “leaders” certain immunities and a more comfortable life, it also required that these people impose their own punishments on others and deny basic human needs from other members within the concentration camps. Often, these people are made out to be enemies, but, like the Aunts and Serena Joy, they weren’t given much choice. While the ethics of these positions of slightly greater power can be argued, ultimately, all are still oppressed and can connect on some basic level.