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The Red Tent

Anita Diamant

Important Quotations Explained

Part Three, Chapter 5

Key Facts

1. It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.

This quote is from the prologue, and it occurs after Dinah recounts how her life has been distilled down to a few lines in the Bible over time. She laments that the “chain connecting mother to daughter was broken,” naming this chain as the reason that her true story, which is a love story, fell by the wayside. At the time when Dinah lived, only men’s histories were committed to paper, and women’s stories were transmitted orally from mother to daughter across generations. Her story would have been important only to her daughters. Since she did not have daughters, Dinah’s story has faded from memory but for a few gruesome details. Dinah comments indirectly on the mistaken descriptions of her story and her mothers’ stories in the Bible, proclaiming that her telling will truthfully amend the record. As a result, the memory of the women of her family will no longer be distorted and half-forgotten.

Dinah introduces herself as both the narrator and the protagonist of the novel in the prologue. By telling her story in the form of “remembering,” as if from the distant past, she creates valuable psychological distance between herself as the narrator and her traumatic personal history. Dinah’s detached narration gives the story the feeling of a legend—a story that should be heard, remembered, and then recounted over and over again through generations. In the prologue, Dinah also alludes to a promise she made to her mothers to keep their stories alive. She says that they held her face between their hands and made her swear to remember their secrets and stories. In telling her story, Dinah fulfills an oath to her mothers to remember and honor them.

2. They do not celebrate the first blood of those who will bear life, nor do they return it to the earth. They have set aside the Opening, which is the sacred business of women, and permit men to display their daughters’ bloody sheets, as though even the pettiest baal would require such a degradation in tribute.

Leah speaks these lines in Part Two, Chapter Five, as she explains to Dinah why Rebecca has cast out her cousin Tabea. The women of her family have always honored the goddess Innana and her gift of monthly blood. When each young girl becomes part of their circle, they induct her with a ritual to give her blood back to the earth and the goddess by opening her womb (breaking her hymen). In this way, a girl’s “first blood” belongs to the female goddess Innana, rather than to the man who first sleeps with her. The women of Tabea’s family are from Canaan, where women are expected to prove their virginity and worth with the bloody sheets from their wedding night. By displaying the bloody sheets, the husband validates his “purchase” of a bride. The Canaanite custom gives the power of a woman’s blood to her husband. Diamant sets up an archetype in which women of a pre-modern age refuse to validate their worth by giving their virginity to their husbands and instead claim power over their own bodies. This quote is important because it helps Dinah realize how lucky she is to be a part of the traditions of the women of her family. Diamant has stated that she wrote novel to empower the female characters of the Bible. She endows them with this power by making women claim their virginity as part of this sacred women’s ritual, rather than giving it to their husbands on the wedding night.

3. Jacob shall never know peace again. He will lose what he treasures and repudiate those he should embrace. He will never again find rest, and his prayers will not find the favor of his father’s god.

Dinah speaks these lines in Part Two, Chapter Eight, as she verbally attacks and curses her father, Jacob, for his hand in the slaughter of Shechem. Dinah has just been carried out of her murdered husband’s bed by her brothers Levi and Simon and forcibly returned to her family’s camp. In an uncharacteristic move, Dinah acts blindly and authoritatively, going to Jacob to accuse him of his responsibility in the mass murder of Shechem’s men. Though he denies participation in the massacre, she glimpses the guilt in his eyes. As the only daughter of her family, Dinah has had very little contact with Jacob up until this point. In fact, in one passage in the previous chapter, Jacob muses that he cannot quite conjure up the image of Dinah’s face, since he only has a vague impression of her appearance. Dinah is the first person in the novel to stand up to Jacob.

This quote is the first real interaction Dinah has with her father as an adult. Dinah’s marriage and skills as a midwife have made her a woman in the eyes of her community, even though she is probably just fourteen years old. She stands before her guilty father and finds that she looks at him with the clear eyes of an equal. She draws upon a well of power within herself as she curses Jacob and leaves the camp immediately after, planning never to return. Her words find their mark: after this time, Jacob’s luck does indeed change. He changes his name to Isra’El so that he will not be recognized as the “butcher of Shechem.” This moment marks the beginning of Dinah’s own adventure in the novel, and from now on she acts not as a child of her mothers but as her own woman, leaving behind everything she has ever known to travel to a new land and begin a new life.

4. Why had no one told me that my body would become a battlefield, a sacrifice, a test? Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?

This quote is from Dinah’s narration in Part Three, Chapter One, as she gives birth to her son. As soon as Dinah goes into labor, her first thought is to cry out for her mothers. In the tradition of her people, women in childbirth are always surrounded by their mothers and sisters. She feels very alone without the familiar faces of Leah and Rachel and without anyone to speak to her in her native tongue. Dinah has served as a midwife and seen the terror and pain on women’s faces, but she had always assumed she would do better when her time came. However, during her own experience of childbirth, she learns the reason why delivery is so difficult: it prepares women for a lifetime of sacrifice and selfless giving as mothers. She experiences firsthand both the fear of death and the power of another woman in the room as she calls her name and encourages her. Dinah finds a source of strength from her mothers in her labor, remembering the teachings of Inna and Rachel. Armed with this knowledge, she instructs the midwife to cut her and pull the baby out. With the memory of her mothers, she finds the courage within her to become a mother herself.

5. My husband’s words found their mark, and I recalled something that Zilpah had told me when I was a child in the red tent, and far too young to understand her meaning. “We are all born of the same mother,” she said. After a lifetime, I knew that to be true.

This quote is from Dinah’s narration at the very end of the novel in Part Three, Chapter Five. Dinah has just returned home from visiting her family’s camp with Joseph after many years away. There she encountered Judah, who gave her Rachel’s ring, a gift passed on from Leah. Ever since she received the ring, Dinah has tried to understand why Leah would leave her a token of Jacob’s love for Rachel. Benia believes it is because Leah found peace with sharing her husband. Leah wanted Dinah to know that, despite the conflicts between the sisters, they loved one another and especially loved Dinah. Dinah understands that as women they are connected to one another as derivations of the great goddess, a fact that supersedes individual wants and needs. Dinah is as much Rachel’s daughter as she is Leah’s and Zilpah’s and Bilhah’s, because they all share the same relationship with the goddesses and the Earth. In Meryt, Dinah has been lucky enough to find yet another mother during her life. Dinah realizes that their love indeed unites them and makes them all one.

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