Reading Trauma Narratives: Insidious Trauma in the Story of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 29-30) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale
Trauma Narratives
Reproductive Loss
Insiduous Trauma


This article investigates the notion of insidious trauma as a helpful means of interpreting the story of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah as told in Genesis 29-30 that has found its way into the haunting trauma narrative of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

In the first instance, this article outlines the category of insidious trauma as it is situated in terms of the broader field of trauma hermeneutics, as well as the way in which it relates to the related disciplines of feminist and womanist biblical interpretation. This article will then continue to show how insidious trauma features in two very different, though intrinsically connected trauma narratives, i.e., the world imagined by Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, and the biblical narrative regarding the four women through whose reproductive efforts the house of Israel had been built that served as the inspiration for Atwood’s novel.

This article argues that these trauma narratives, on the one hand, reflect the ongoing effects of systemic violation in terms of gender, race and class, but also how, embedded in these narratives there are signs of resistance that serve as the basis of survival of the self and also of others.

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