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The Red Tent

Anita Diamant

Part Two, Chapters 7–8

Part Two, Chapter 6

Part Three, Chapter 1

Summary: Chapter 7

Dinah begins traveling with Rachel as she performs her duties as a midwife. A messenger arrives at their camp from the city of Shechem. One of the king’s concubines has gone into labor and has called Rachel and her assistant to come aid with the birth. Excitedly, Dinah packs. When she first arrives in Shechem, Dinah finds the city to be crowded and dirty, but she finds the interior of the palace to be quiet and spacious. They find the young mother-to-be already panting. The king’s wife, Queen Re-nefer, enters and introduces herself. She is beautiful and elegant and shows herself to be knowledgeable about childbirth. Dinah hears a man’s voice in the adjoining room and goes to investigate. She comes across Shalem, the prince of Shechem and Re-nefer’s son. Dinah is immediately struck by his beauty, and they stare at each other, intrigued. She blushes when she realizes how attracted they are to each other. The mother’s water breaks, and Dinah is pulled away from Shalem to deliver the baby. She stays in the palace that night then leaves the next morning, heartbroken that she may never see Shalem again.

A short time later, the king sends for Dinah again to distract the young mother while she rests in confinement after the birth. Dinah quickly grows bored minding the young mother. Some days later, Re-nefer stops by and tells her to go to the marketplace with her maid to pick out some fruit for her son Shalem. Dinah wanders among the stalls, happy to be outside. Suddenly Shalem appears before her with a hungry look in his eyes. He puts his hand on her elbow, steering her back toward the castle where he pulls her into a shady corner to embrace. Minutes later he leads her to a private room with a bed, and they make love. Shalem calls Dinah “little wife.” They hold each other and weep with joy in each other’s arms. They fall asleep, wake up, and make love again. Food is left at their door and for several days they stay in seclusion, making love, talking, and sleeping together. Shalem tells Dinah that their lovemaking seals their marriage and that he will offer a handsome bride-price to her father.

King Hamor departs for Jacob’s camp, where he makes a generous offer to Jacob and praises Dinah’s beauty. Jacob holds back, saying he will discuss the union with his sons when they return from town. Hamor reminds him that Dinah is no longer a virgin and that he offers a huge bride-price, but Jacob’s sons have poisoned their father’s mind against the king. Sensitive to their diminishing status, Simon and Levi reject the union and pull Jacob to their side to counsel him. Jacob finally declares that if all the men in Shechem agree to be circumcised, he will consent to the marriage. He explains his proposal to Hamor, and Shalem immediately agrees. Hamor further promises that every boy born within Shechem from that day forward will be circumcised and that Jacob’s god will be worshiped in their temples. Shalem is circumcised, and Dinah waits for him to heal, hating her father. A few nights later, Dinah wakes to the sound of a woman’s scream and discovers that she is covered in her husband’s blood. Her brothers have cut Shalem’s throat. Simon and Levi murder all of the men in Shechem that night, then carry Dinah back to their camp, screaming.

Summary: Chapter 8

Back at their camp Dinah’s mothers hold her to clean Shalem’s blood off of her body. Dinah pushes them away and runs out, screaming for Jacob. She goes before him to accuse him of murder and deceit before cursing him for eternity. She spits in his face, then curses each of her brothers in turn. In the middle of the night, she leaves her home forever and walks straight to Shechem. Dinah then takes a step back as narrator and describes the fates of each of her family members. Her mother Leah wakes up paralyzed one day and begs her daughters-in-law to give her poison. Rachel dies giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and Jacob abandons her body by the side of the road. Zilpah dies of fever when Jacob smashes her goddesses, while Bilhah is caught in bed with Reuben and disappears after being beaten in punishment. Jacob changes his name to Isra’El so that he will not be identified as the butcher of Shechem.

Analysis

Diamant rewrites the biblical rape of Dinah in Chapters Seven and Eight, which has contributedto the controversy over whether The Red Tent might be considered a midrash. For readers unfamiliar with the story of Dinah, the climax is at once shocking and horrifying while still believable. Diamant builds up to the climax by illustrating Jacob’s erratic judgment and growing irrationality, as well as the cruel and power-hungry natures of Simon and Levi. For readers familiar with the biblical story, this version of events might seem blasphemous. To completely rewrite “The Rape of Dinah” as a love story contradicts traditional midrash, in which a text fills in the holes of a story without rewriting its key details. According to Diamant, Dinah’s tale in the Bible is so brief that it requires more exploration to make logical sense. In the Bible, Dinah is raped and her brothers act out of revenge. The story also clearly states that Shalem loves Dinah and agrees to be circumcised and pay a heavy bride-price for his wife. The two aspects of the story seem to conflict with one another in the original texts.

Diamant’s creation of a true love story between Dinah and Shalem fills in the logical gaps in the biblical version of the story. It is difficult to believe that a rapist would submit not only himself but also his entire community to circumcision, a painful operation considered to be emasculating at the time. Dinah’s story in the Bible begs many questions: how could her brothers have acted in such a way? Would a rapist behave honorably, as Shalem does? Because of these questions, Diamant’s version offers a more plausible sequence of events for the slaughter at Shechem. At the same time, it makes the tragedy of Dinah even more painful, because Dinah loses her true love. In rewriting Dinah’s story in such a way, Diamant encourages readers to assume that the women in the Bible have histories more complicated than the brief summaries written down by men. The stories, which depict men as the only important characters, are misleading. Diamant recasts the female characters, historically depicted as passive and victimized, as active agents who are capable of directing and transforming their own lives. Dinah changes “The Rape of Dinah” from a true physical rape by Shalem to a metaphorical rape of her soul by her brothers.

Jacob’s decision to permit the murder of Shalem does not come as a surprise given the foreshadowing that has preceded the rape of Dinah. Though the events are shocking, in the chapters preceding the climax, Diamant has prepared readers to accept an erratic and irrational Jacob who is capable of cruelty while establishing the intensity of the love affair between Dinah and Shalem. Jacob’s dreams before meeting his brother, his unabashed favoritism toward his cruelest sons, and his sudden destruction of the teraphim make his bizarre behavior toward his only daughter believable. Diamant also foreshadows the intense romance between Dinah and Shalem. Dinah has recently reached womanhood and has begun to feel some sexual frustration, though she has not been able to identify her feelings. When she first meets the handsome Shalem, one of the only nonrelative males she’s ever come across, she feels an overwhelming attraction. The pair have an instant chemical reaction that recalls the stories of Leah’s and Rachel’s introductions to Jacob. Diamant creates an immediate bond between the pair, and her descriptions of their coupling are intimate and thrilling. The intensity of their love makes the night of bloodshed all the more cruel and painful.

Dinah narrates the stories of the deaths of her mothers, each of which conveys the four sisters’ grief at losing Dinah. After Dinah’s departure, the sisters come unglued with no legacy to hold them together, causing each of them to go her own way. The four women die alone, uncertain of their only daughter’s fate and lacking the knowledge that anyone will carry on their stories and traditions. Though circumstances turn ugly for Dinah’s father and brothers as well, her mothers brought Dinah up and thus must bear the sorrow of her exile. The extent of their grief is apparent in the gruesomeness of their deaths—by poison, death in childbirth, and attempted suicide. Their reason for living seems to be gone. By giving us closure on these characters at the end of the second part of the novel, Diamant prepares us for the third part of the book, which recounts Dinah’s solitary journey to Egypt.

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I disagree. Leah and Rachel were polytheistic.

by sman613, April 29, 2014

Nobody can change their customs fast. These two grew up as polytheists, so it is improbable that they would have been, at least during the time frame of the story, monotheists. That is why in Genesis 35:2, Jacob needs to say: "Remove the foreign gods which are in your midst..."

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