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The Red Tent

Anita Diamant

Part Two, Chapter 3

Part Two, Chapters 1–2

Part Two, Chapter 4

Summary

The family embarks on the journey to Canaan with their belongings and animals in tow. They find Inna, the midwife, sitting by the side of the road. She says that she is too old to lose her apprentice Rachel and would like to join their family in the journey. She offers her possessions in exchange for their protection and offers to act as their chief healer and servant. Jacob accepts, and the family is pleased to have the healer join them.

After several days, Dinah becomes accustomed to traveling. They come to a wide river. Though Dinah has never seen a river before, she feels inextricably drawn to it. She savors the smell and daydreams by the water as the meals are prepared. The next morning, they each cross the river, guiding the animals. Dinah is entranced by the water and floats through it, dragged by Judah’s hand. Zilpah pronounces her a child of water and tells her that she will only be happy living by a river. Dinah spends the journey wandering among the caravan with her spindle, gathering herbs, and watching her family. She notes how differently Jacob treats his wives. He discusses food and plans with Leah, shares personal stories with Rachel, offers silent acknowledgments to Zilpah, and caresses Bilhah. She notices that Reuben and Bilhah frequent walk together.

One day, Dinah hears the angry voice of her grandfather, Laban. He has come for his teraphim, which he is convinced Jacob has stolen. Jacob tells Laban to search the tents. He does so, even entering the red tent where the women sit during the new moon. When he enters, Rachel boldly confesses that she took the idols and has been sitting on them during her menstruation. She tells him that their magic has been turned against him and Laban leaves the tent. He says nothing to Jacob, and they part ways swearing peace to each other.

The next day, Jacob feels eager to move on and the women dismantle the red tent and continue the journey. Jacob begins to dwell on memories of his brother Esau. Fear grows within him, and he begins to worry that Esau will not embrace him and his family when they appear but will slaughter them instead. They encounter another river. Jacob sends his family and herd across, declaring that he will stay behind alone and cross early the next morning. The next morning, Jacob does not appear, and Reuben, Simon, and Judah cross back to find him. They find Jacob beaten and naked in a clearing nearby. Inna attends to his broken leg and fever. Jacob slowly begins to heal while the family stays by the river for two months. As he recovers, his fears of his brother grow even stronger and he can speak of nothing else.

Analysis

On the road, Dinah begins to realize the strength and power of Jacob’s family and begins to understand her own status within it. They are an impressive group, with eleven strong sons and a herd of healthy animals. Because they have lived in a remote location for so long, Dinah has not thought much about her extended family, but along the road she hears stories about her uncle Esau and his wives and children, her grandmother Rebecca, the Oracle at Mamre, and her legendary grandfather Isaac. Away from the familiarity of her home, Dinah’s eyes open to the outside world as she hears stories about her famous grandmother’s powers and the prosperity of her uncle. As the only daughter of Jacob, the blessed son of Rebecca and Isaac, she has special status in the family. She develops a sense of self-awareness, realizing that her world is growing and that she is a piece in a much larger puzzle than she had previously believed.

The journey to Canaan parallels Dinah’s journey toward womanhood. As a girl, she spent very little time around the men in her family, as they were secluded in the pastures all day tending to the animals. Now she watches them, noticing their differences and similarities and their alliances and enemies. For the first time, she begins to see them as men and realizes that they will soon be taking wives. Since she has never witnessed much interaction between her father and her mothers, particularly all together, she takes careful notice of his attempts to keep them happy. Jacob has established a different relationship with each woman and communicates with each of them on different levels. As she observes the changing landscape, the rivers, and the other travelers, she learns that her mothers are no longer the center of the universe and her brothers are not the only men, and she enters adolescence.

Jacob’s dream episode with the Angel of God marks the beginning of the transformation of his personality. He appears to Dinah to be gradually descending into madness, dreaming constantly of his brother so that his fear of fratricide grows by the day. He is weakened by his ill-fated night by the river, in which he is attacked by his dream, and the weeks of recovery that follow. Dinah hears him weep for the first time and call out for his mother like a child. She cannot reconcile this Jacob with the father that she knows so well from her mothers as a strong and able man. Dinah notes the changes in him, wondering why her family does not notice his transformation from loving to challenging, from assertive to hesitant. From then on he tends to lean on Levi rather than Reuben, which instills worry in Dinah’s heart. She knows that he has changed for the worse and perhaps she senses that he will contribute to her family’s undoing.

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