The Red Tent
Part Two, Chapters 1–2
Summary: Chapter 1
Dinah and Joseph play together often, but, with few other girls in the camp, Dinah spends the majority of her time with her mothers. They teach her to spin, cook, and weave, and they tell her the stories of their goddesses and their mothers. Though girls are not allowed in the red tent until they are women, they bring Dinah in with them.
Time passes and tensions grow in the camp. Laban gambles away Jacob’s best herding dogs and his sons Kemuel and Beor are careless about watching the flocks. Jacob grows angry with the situation. One day, Ruti comes to Leah and throws herself at her feet. Laban has gambled her away to a trader who has arrived to claim her as a slave. Leah pleads with Jacob to help save her. They gather honey, herbs, bangles, and bolts of cloth as an offering. After much convincing, the trader leaves with the treasures instead of Ruti, but Laban’s treatment of her worsens.
Summary: Chapter 2
Jacob begins to plan for his family’s departure from Laban’s land. Jacob says his dreams have become ferocious. Consumed by the idea of returning to his father’s lands in Canaan, he will find no peace until he does. Jacob has heard that Esau, his twin brother whom he ran from in fear years ago, has become a prosperous herdsman with many sons. With no reason to fear him any longer, Jacob wishes to return to his kin.
In the red tent, the sisters discuss Jacob’s plans. Rachel is eager to leave their land, but the others wish to stay near their fields and goddesses. However, with many sons among them, there is not sufficient land or enough potential wives available in Haran. Zilpah grieves over abandoning her goddesses, who live in the trees and holy places of their camp. They discuss taking Laban’s teraphim, or sacred figures, with them, though they know it would incite Laban’s wrath. Rachel decides to do it.
Leah tells Jacob that his wives are ready to depart for Canaan. The women begin hoarding bread and sewing herbs into their clothing. That night, Jacob begins his negotiations with Laban. Jacob claims the rights of any overseer, which would equal one tenth of the herds. He also demands his wives’ property, such as spindles, looms, jugs, and other personal effects. After many weeks of discussion, Jacob threatens Laban that the god of his fathers will not look kindly on one who tries to swindle him. Laban fears all gods and is very much aware of Jacob’s success with his family and the flocks. Knowing that Jacob is blessed, the two reach an agreement, and Laban allows Jacob to leave.
Preparations begin for dismantling the camp and packing provisions for the journey. There is sadness in the red tent as the women celebrate their last new moon in their home. Ruti does not appear, so Leah sends Dinah to look for her. Dinah finally finds Ruti’s dead body far off from camp, with blood at her wrists and a bloody knife beside her. A few days later, they ready themselves for departure. Laban goes into town and leaves his sons in charge to insure that nothing is stolen. Rachel gives Kemuel a strong drink, and he sleeps through one day and then another. The night before they leave Rachel slips silently into Laban’s tent and steals his teraphim. Jacob and his family eat a quick morning meal and set off without saying goodbye to Laban, who has remained in town to drink and has not returned as promised. With a last look around their home, they leave.
Dinah relates the memories of her childhood through the lens of her mothers’ experiences and stories. Growing up with no girls her age to play with, Dinah relies entirely on her mothers for entertainment. She is exposed mainly to adult conversation and relationships, especially the complicated relationship between the four sisters who share a single husband. All of the women treat Dinah as their daughter. Each woman takes her into personal confidence and shares her inner secrets and talents with Dinah, hoping that in at least some small way they will live on through her. Consequently, Dinah becomes the product of the best each woman has to offer: learning cooking and mothering skills from Leah, healing from Rachel, a love of stories and the spiritual from Zilpah, and the importance of silence and kindness from Bilhah. She listens to their versions of meeting Jacob and the births of their sons so often that the four versions gradually meld into one blurred version. As her father spends the majority of his time in the fields, she only comes to know him through her mothers’ eyes and thus sees him as more of the image of a husband and lover rather than as a true father figure. She sees everything and remembers everything through the lens of her mothers, never forced to make opinions about anyone else until she is on her own.
Diamant portrays the sisters as pagans, worshipping idols and goddesses, while twenty feet away their husband spreads the word of the One God. The modern Judeo-Christian world recognizes Leah, Rachel, and Jacob’s grandmother, Rebecca, as the matriarchs of a monotheistic religion that eventually evolved into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is hard to imagine that Jacob, whose father was saved by the One God, would allow his wives to worship multiple goddesses and take part in pagan rituals. Diamant explains this discrepancy by portraying the daily lives of men and women as separate. While the men spend all day in the fields, the women pass their days in the camp. Jacob likely passed on the stories of his fathers and their god to his sons, ushering them into his religion. On the other hand, Jacob’s wives are left to their own devices and thus continue to worship polytheists, following the same observances that have been handed down to them by their mothers.
The first two chapters of Part Two prepare readers for Jacob’s later character transformation—from the calm, rational behavior he exhibits here to his calloused, greedier self later. The redemption of Ruti shows the kindness of Jacob, as well as highlights Leah’s position as first wife and counselor to her husband. Though the sisters’ save Ruti from the traders, they cannot save her from loneliness, so she chooses to take her life rather than remain alone with Laban. Ruti’s suicide is the first truly awful and shocking moment in Dinah’s life, tearing her out of the protective and adoring bubble in which she has lived. Diamant has detailed a secure and loving childhood for Dinah, in which her mothers constantly attend to her and she is pampered inside the red tent, though custom forbids it. Dinah spends so much time in the company of doting women that she develops a sense of entitlement and carelessness. The image of Dinah running happily through the family’s tents as a child sets up an arresting contrast for the tragic events that come later in her adulthood.
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