The Red Tent
Part Three, Chapter 4
Summary: Chapter Four
One day, Re-mose appears at Dinah’s door. Though their greeting feels stiff and formal, Dinah invites him in and offers him fruit and beer. Re-mose explains that his master has sent for her to attend as a midwife to his wife’s labor. Dinah can hear in Re-mose’s voice that he does not care for his master,although he feels that he must carry out his duty. She agrees to go and collects her kit and herbs. They stop by Meryt’s on the way out of town to invite her to come along, but she cannot join them. Dinah bids farewell to Benia, who is unhappy that she is leaving. Re-mose brings Dinah to the river, where one of the king’s boats speeds them to Thebes, and she enters the chamber of the mother-to-be. After a difficult labor, the woman gives birth to a healthy son, and she expresses her gratitude for Dinah’s skills as a midwife. Dinah is given a bed and collapses into sleep contentedly, but she wakes up with a fever and a sore throat. Several days pass before she feels better. In the meantime, one of the servants begins to chatter to Dinah about her master, Zafenat Paneh-ah. The servant tells her that he is handsome and arrogant and mentions that he is of Canaanite origin. Dinah learns that his brothers sold him as a slave when he was a young man but rose to power because he could divine the future by interpreting dreams. Dinah finally realizes that he must be her brother Joseph, at which point the servant informs her that Zafenat Paneh-ah demanded that his son be circumcised eight days after his birth. As she falls asleep, she mutters his true name aloud.
The servant tells Re-mose that Dinah has mentioned the name ,Joseph. Re-mose approaches his master, addressing him as Joseph and asking if he knows a woman named Dinah. Joseph replies that he once had a sister named Dinah who died. Re-mose insists upon hearing the story, and Joseph complies. Re-mose informs Joseph that not only is his sister not dead but that she is the midwife who delivered his son. With this realization, Re-mose refuses to call Joseph uncle and accuses him of the murder of his father. He raises his arm to harm Joseph, but guards intervene and he is led away.
Dinah wakes up and learns that Re-mose has been placed under guard. She insists on speaking with Joseph, and she is ushered into his hall, where they are left alone. Joseph and Dinah immediately recognize each other. She asks him why her son has been placed under guard. Joseph says that Re-mose knows the story of Shalem’s death, and because he threatened Joseph’s life, he must be sent away. Joseph begs Dinah to convince Re-mose to go so that the guards will not kill him. Dinah goes to Re-mose and tells him he must go away and that she can never see him again. She apologizes for not telling him the story of his father and explains her agreement with Re-nefer. She blesses him and wishes him contentment. He does not utter a word, and at last she leaves him.
The confrontation between Joseph and Re-mose parallels the battles between another uncle and nephew, Laban and Jacob, in Part One of The Red Tent. Laban and Jacob had many quarrels—over the bride-prices for Laban’s daughters, Jacob’s property rights as overseer, and the theft of the teraphim. In all of these disagreements, the nephew engendered sympathy, while the uncle came across as cruel and unreasonable; the same is true in the struggle between Joseph and Re-mose. When Joseph describes the unfortunate story of his sister and her marriage, he claims to hold no responsibility in the matter and calls himself a victim, since he was later sold into slavery by the same villainous brothers that killed Shalem. Re-mose does not accept his claims, calling Joseph a murderer and a liar for doing nothing to halt his brother’s plot. His hatred of Joseph mirrors Jacob’s hatred of his uncle after Laban tried to cheat him out of his fair due as overseer of the herds. Joseph has assumed the position of his grandfather, Laban, while Re-mose has taken that of his grandfather, Jacob.
In this chapter, Dinah speaks up for herself for a third time and fully asserts her control over her destiny. For most of the novel, she has remained passive, serving primarily as the narrator of the story rather than as its protagonist. She first asserts herself after Shalem’s murder, when she marches up to Jacob, condemns him for the crime, and curses him forever. Afterward she slips back into her noncommittal personality, floating along with the current and accepting whatever happens to her. She barely blinks when whisked away from Shechem to Egypt and does not utter a word of protest when Re-nefer takes away her child. Dinah finds her voice again when Re-mose comes to her as a young man and demands that she deliver the vizier’s baby. After finding contentment with Benia, Dinah has had enough of being ordered around. She refuses to hear orders from her son and puts him in his place. Once she learns of her brother’s position, she demands a private audience with him, despite her lowly status as a midwife. Dinah’s growing acceptance of her past alerts her to the power she holds over her life, which, in turn, compels her to finally stand up and speak her mind. Dinah’s newfound assertiveness saves her son from death.
Joseph’s return into Dinah’s life prompts her to tell her son, Re-mose, the truth about his father. Though the accounts of Joseph’s ascent to power have roots in the Bible, he does not dominate the narrative of The Red Tent. Instead, Joseph’s story forces Dinah to level with her son. Alhough she had sworn to Re-nefer that she would never reveal anything to Re-mose about Shalem or his murder, she finally breaks down and tells him her story. She explains the truth about the role of her father and brothers in Shalem’s death, as well as the promise she made to Re-nefer to keep the story quiet. Dinahs faces her greatest challenge as a mother by sending her son away with the knowledge that she will likely never see him again. Dinah believed that hiding away in Egypt would prevent her past from catching up to her. However, when she breaks her promise and tells her son the truth about her relationship with Shalem and his murder, she feels nothing but relief. With a blessing she bids him farewell and leaves “brokenhearted but free.”
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