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Over the course of her life, Dinah
has many different “mothers.” Discuss the differences or similarities
in her relationships with each woman.
Dinah has many mothers over the course of
her life, including Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, and Meryt. Dinah’s
relationship with Leah dominates the first half of her life, while
her relationship with Meryt dominates the second half. Leah acts
as her teacher, showing Dinah the ways of their people while also
instructing her in spinning and cooking. Though Dinah often runs
to her aunts for attention and special treats, she seeks approval
from Leah and views Leah as the image of the ideal woman. Dinah
manages to learn a great deal from her other mothers—and thus they
function primarily as teachers. Rachel teaches her to become a midwife
and to find solace in her ability to be able to help women through
childbirth. She shares Zilpah’s interest in spirituality and learns
kindness and steadfastness from Bilhah. As she reaches adulthood
alone in Egypt, Meryt becomes the primary mother figure in Dinah’s
life. Meryt treats her as a highly regarded friend and also a partner
in midwifery. They become as close as sisters over time, though
Meryt is a generation older than Dinah. When she dies, Dinah mourns
her as she does the loss of Leah and the others. Over the course
of her life, the values and gifts of Dinah’s mothers continue to
guide her, even as they are no longer with her.
Dinah’s point of view is often that
of an observer. What effect does this have on the reader? On the
Dinah’s point of view—an observer privy to
extremely intimate details—allows Dinah to present the private details
of one family’s history and to weave between objective and subjective
perspectives. Rather than using an unnamed third-person narrator,
Diamant utilizes a figure immersed in the stories recounted in The
Red Tent. Dinah has heard the history of how her mothers
fell in love with the same man countless times and recounts her
personalized version of the story. Dinah’s accounts are infused
with her connection to the stories and emphasize the idea of a shared
history transmitted orally from generation to generation. Dinah’s
view as an observer gives her story a sense of timelessness, like
a fable or a legend that has been told many times before and will
be told many times in the future.
Though Dinah shares the most personal minutiae of her
life, from childhood to adulthood, her distance from the story places
her more in the role of storyteller, rather than protagonist. Her
detached perspective lessens the impact of the gruesome events of
the story. This detached point of view may also pertain to Dinah’s
discussion in the prologue of offering her story to contemporary
women who are interested in learning more about the lives of women
in biblical times: Dinah’s detachment enables her to tell a specific,
detailed story that occurred more than 2,000 years ago, while at
the same time offering objective information about the civilization
in which she lived and the role of women within it.
Discuss the marital dynamics of Jacob’s
family. He has four wives; compare his relationship with each woman.
Jacob wisely cultivates very different relationships
with each of his wives. His first wife, Leah, is his partner in
running the camp. She manages the cooking and the children, making
sure that the day-to-day work is always done. Leah is the quintessential
mother, giving birth to eight children and breastfeeding several
that do not belong to her. Jacob speaks to her almost as an equal,
and he affords her the respect of a business partner. Rachel is
his beautiful love, the woman he asked to marry the first time he
met her. Though she cannot give him many children and is often away
from camp serving as a midwife, he remains devoted to her and loves
her deeply. He shares his most intimate thoughts with her. He does
not have a conventionally marital relationship with Zilpah, although
he does try in the beginning of their relationship to befriend her.
She bears him twin sons, fulfilling her duty as wife, then asks
not to return to his bed. Their relationship slowly settles into
one of mutual respect. Bilhah and Jacob have a quiet, warm relationship,
in which they spend many nights together and bear one son, Dan.
Bilhah does not act like Leah as a consultant or partner, nor does
she serve like Rachel as Jacob’s great love, but their relationship
is a comfortable one until she is discovered with Reuben, her true
love. In general, it is Rachel and Leah who quietly compete for
Jacob’s attention, and he carefully splits his time between them.