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The Red Tent

Anita Diamant

Part Two, Chapter 6

Part Two, Chapter 5

Part Two, Chapters 7–8

Summary

When Dinah returns home to her family’s camp, she has reached the peak of her adolescence. After living among mainly women for three months, she is shocked by the crudeness of her father and brothers when she returns to her camp. The noise and stench of the camp overwhelm her. Even her mother Leah has changed, acting bossy and demanding, so Dinah begins sleeping in Rachel’s tent. Slowly, she grows accustomed to her family’s way of life again, though she starts to feel a longing within her that she cannot name. She takes great interest in the mating dogs and listens to her brother Judah and his wife Shua as they make love at night. Jacob and his sons begin to talk of moving elsewhere in order to find more land. Simon and Levi go to Shechem to speak with its king, Hamor, who offers them a large piece of land. Jacob’s family dismantles the camp, and they move again to a valley with a large mountain alongside it. Here, three more of the brothers take wives and the herds multiply.

Soon after they reach their new home, Dinah reaches womanhood. She is surprised and for a moment considers keeping it to herself and remaining a girl in the eyes of her family. After a moment of reticence, she tells her mothers, and they smother her with hugs and kisses. Her ceremony begins that night at dusk. Dinah drinks sweet wine and is painted with henna on her feet and palms. Her mothers dress her in a rough homespun gown, feed her sweets, and massage her neck and back while offering her more and more wine. Rachel brings out the teraphim, and all fall silent. Dinah chooses the special frog goddess, and they take her outside to lie in a wheat patch in the garden. She lies naked facedown in the soil. Her mothers oil the teraphim and insert it into Dinah to “open her womb” by breaking her hymen so that her blood returns to the earth and to the goddess Innana. Though she cries out, the procedure does not really hurt. The wine causes Dinah to fall into a sleep, in which she dreams of Taweret, an Egyptian goddess who lives in the river.

Simon and Levi’s wives, who are Canaanite, witness the private ritual. As it is not their custom, they are shocked by the family’s ritual of womanhood and run to tell their husbands, who have remained ignorant of these rituals. The men are disgusted, and Jacob orders the women to return the teraphim to him. He shatters and buries most of the teraphim. Jacob now frowns upon the red tent and the practices that occur within it, since he does not understand the women’s rituals, but he allows them to continue. With every new moon, Dinah now joins her mothers and the other women in the tent as a mature woman. Leah is pleased to have her daughter sit beside her in the straw. Inna and Rachel keep busy delivering babies to women in the vicinity of the camp. Dinah begins to attend the births occasionally and begins to see midwifery as her calling, so she becomes Rachel’s apprentice.

Analysis

Dinah demonstrates a new level of intellectual and emotional maturity when she gets her period. Upon realizing that she has it, she debates for a moment whether to tell her mother. After her initial childlike hesitance, she acknowledges that no one can stop or change the future, so all one can do is accept it. Having lived under the pampering care of so many women, there has been little impetus for Dinah to develop independence or emotional maturity. She has lived a comfortable existence as the baby girl for her entire life. Dinah’s recent troubles with Rebecca at Mamre and her growing insight into the role of women in the family and the community have helped her to develop a more mature outlook. She understands the honor of participating in the monthly ritual in the tent and is ready to take her place among her mothers as an equal. Dinah has also started to show interest in the marital relations in the camp, revealing her growing curiosity about sexuality and the relationships between men and women. For the first time in her life, Dinah finds herself pulling away from her mothers and moving toward her own desires.

The graphic scene of Dinah’s initiation ceremony into womanhood foreshadows the coming violence in the novel. Dinah undergoes the same menstruation ritual as all the women before her, including her mothes, and is treated as a queen for the day. At first, Dinah’s ritual is described much like Rachel’s, but then Diamant adds a more graphic scene in which her mothers physically break Dinah’s hymen with the sacred teraphim. Dinah cries out as her blood spills into the earth. Diamant includes this added description to demonstrate the gravity and significance of the ritual and the changes in Dinah’s perspective, as well as to foreshadow the bloody pain that will soon befall Dinah. Until this point in the novel, nothing unpleasant has happened personally to Dinah, only to other characters. This ritual is her first experience of personal pain, however small, and it anticipates the pain that her union with Shalem will cause her.

Jacob starts to understand the discrepancy between his religion and his wives’ practices, which leads him to destroy the teraphim to show that he disapproves of the ceremonies of the red tent. Though the four sisters have always fulfilled their obligations to Jacob and his god, they have continued to worship their multitude of goddesses and engage in pagan rituals in the privacy of the red tent. Jacob behaves rationally, but because he preaches the word of the One God, he cannot permit his wives to act as polytheists. He is entirely devoted to his god and credits his health, fertility, and power to the blessings of his god. Diamant modifies the standard depiction of Jacob’s wives as the sacrosanct matriarchs of all monotheistic religions.

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