The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Character Analysis



The daughter of Jacob and Leah, Dinah grows up in a loving family, which includes three caring aunts—Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. As a child Dinah shows leadership skills and a potential for spirituality. Leah allows her daughter to enter the red tent, where she learns to appreciate female spirituality and community. After Dinah reaches womanhood Rachel teaches her the skills of midwifing. Dinah has a traumatic experience when her young husband, a prince named Shalem, is murdered by two of her brothers. Dinah leaves Jacob's tribe and travels with Shalem's mother to Egypt, where Dinah bears a son. In Egypt Dinah shows her will to live by being a loving mother. When she meets Joseph in Egypt, Dinah's old wounds are exposed. She relates her tragic story to a close friend and her husband, thereby achieving some healing. Also Dinah accompanies Joseph to see Jacob, who is now an old man. Although she feels like an outsider in Jacob's tribe, Dinah achieves some peace when she realizes that her family has not forgotten her story.


Leah is the oldest of Laban's four daughters and the first wife of Jacob. She is a nurturing woman who is skilled at domestic tasks, such as baking and weaving. Also Leah has a keen intelligence and leadership skills. Jacob often looks to her for advice about tending the flocks. In addition Leah becomes the leader of women's activities in the red tent. She bears seven sons and one daughter, Dinah. Leah is a loving mother to her children and allows Dinah to observe female rituals in the red tent, which empowers the girl. However, Leah's fertility causes hard feelings with her sister Rachel, who is Jacob's second wife. Rachel has many miscarriages and comes to envy Leah. Even so Leah and Rachel learn to live together and eventually forgive each other. Leah's life ends tragically when she loses the use of her hands, which she used so skillfully for domestic chores. Soon after this, Leah loses the ability to walk and dies.


Rachel is the third oldest of Laban's four daughters and the second wife of Jacob. Rachel is known for her beauty, which impresses Jacob when he first meets her. Jacob soon offers to marry her. However, Rachel's beauty also proves to be a liability because it thrusts her into womanhood before she is ready. As Rachel matures she learns more about the female body and giving birth than any of her sisters. In fact she becomes a skilled midwife. Her journey can be seen as one from ignorance to knowledge. Rachel is the most adventurous and unconventional of her sisters. She supports Dinah's marriage to a foreigner, seeing no problem in the groom practicing a different religion. Determined to have more children, Rachel dies giving birth to a second son, Benjamin.


Jacob is the son of Rebecca and Isaac and the husband of Leah and Rachel. Throughout his life Jacob is a person who deals with various inner struggles. His basic nature is kindhearted. For example, he forms an affectionate bond with his older brother Esau. However, influenced by Rebecca, Jacob tricks his father into giving his blessing to him, not to Esau. Later Jacob is once again influenced by others. Two of his sons, Simon and Levi, convince Jacob that he should be resentful and suspicious of the king in a nearby city. When the king's son, Shalem, wants to marry Jacob's daughter Dinah, Jacob treats Shalem and his father rudely. Eventually Jacob agrees to let Simon and Levi lead a massacre of the men in the city, including Shalem. After this Jacob is convinced by some of his sons to dispose of his youngest son Joseph. This action plagues Jacob for the rest of his life. Jacob dies an anxious man, torn apart by his inner conflicts. Jacob also has a contentious relationship with his god El. Jacob often has fierce dreams that involve struggling with El. Despite this conflict Jacob maintains that his people should only worship El. Indeed Jacob gradually becomes more fanatical about following only El, thereby making his tribe more monotheistic.


Zilpah is the second oldest of Laban's four daughters and the first concubine of Jacob. She has an intense spirituality and at times seems to feel closer to the gods and goddesses than to some of her relatives. Zilpah loves to spin tales about various deities and forms a close attachment with the little domestic idols called the teraphim. In general Zilpah doesn't like men and would have preferred to remain a virgin. However, her sister Leah convinces Zilpah to sleep with Jacob. As a result Zilpah gets pregnant and almost dies while giving birth to twin boys, Gad and Asher. Afterward Zilpah tells Jacob that if she gets pregnant again, she'll die, which isn't true. Zilpah thus remains sexually inactive for the rest of her life. Zilpah's major flaw is her rigidity. For example, when Jacob wants to move his tribe to Canaan, Zilpah becomes horrified because she'll have to leave the teraphim behind. She feels if the little idols do not come with her she'll lose her spiritual connection with them. The intensity of Zilpah's spirituality prevents her from being flexible or adaptable. When Jacob destroys the last of the teraphim Zilpah becomes hysterical. She is so unsuited for the prevailing culture that she cannot survive in it and eventually dies.


Bilhah is the youngest of Laban's four daughters and the second concubine of Jacob. Bilhah is a kind, empathetic woman who has a close connection with nature. She usually sees the best in people and sympathizes with their problems. In fact Bilhah has sexual relations with Jacob because of her sympathy for Rachel. At the time Rachel is depressed from several miscarriages and having no children. Bilhah offers to have a son in Rachel's name. Rachel agrees, and Bilhah sleeps with Jacob. The son Bilhah bears can thus be seen as a gift to Rachel. However, Rachel realizes the boy is really not hers and continues to be bereft. Bilhah's gentleness is her strength and her identity. She seems to exist mainly to help others. Eventually Bilhah has a love affair with Jacob's eldest son, Reuben. Reuben is the gentlest of Jacob's son and is thus attracted to the gentle Bilhah. However, when Jacob discovers the affair, he disinherits Reuben and breaks off his relationship with Bilhah, who wastes away and eventually dies.


Joseph is the eldest son of Rachel. He is an intelligent, gifted child, who shows leadership skills at an early age. As a child Joseph becomes close to his sister Dinah. Indeed the two share many of the same qualities. Joseph's talents both bless him and plague him. Because of Joseph's gifts his brothers and even his father become threatened by him. As a result Joseph is left to die in the desert by his brothers and is enslaved in Egypt. However, because of his talent interpreting dreams, Joseph rises to the powerful position of vizier to the king of Egypt. Despite his estrangement from his brothers and father, Joseph still feels connected to them. Because of this he forgives his starving brothers when they come begging for his help. Also Joseph feels compelled to go to Jacob when the patriarch wants to bless Joseph's sons. In contrast Dinah has achieved more of a separation from her family. She has no desire to see Jacob again and does so only because Joseph asks her to. Also Joseph's inner conflict concerning his family makes him more self-absorbed than Dinah.

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