Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 1 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 1 : My Story | Summary



As a child Dinah is well loved by her mother, Leah, and by her three aunts, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. Dinah grows close to Joseph, as the two become playmates. Jacob's children are divided into two groups, the older and the younger. Of the older set, Simon and Levi often ridicule the young children. One time Simon and Levi make fun of the younger boys for playing with a girl, Dinah. After this all the boys play separately, except for Joseph, who continues to play with Dinah. However, Dinah has little time for play as she is put to work pulling weeds, carrying water, and spinning wool. Leah gets angry at her daughter for her clumsiness at spinning. Upset, Dinah goes to Bilhah for comfort. Bilhah tells Dinah a story about how the goddess Uttu blessed a woman named Enhenduanna with the gift of spinning wool. Under Bilhah's guidance, Dinah learns to spin efficiently and is reconciled with her mother. Dinah and Joseph often share stories. She relates stories about goddesses; he tells stories about gods.

Laban grows to resent Jacob for his success at herding and for his many sons. Laban bets Ruti in a game of chance and loses her to a trader. Not wanting to be sent away, Ruti asks Leah for help. Leah describes the situation to her husband, while flattering him. Jacob pays the trader with various goods in exchange for Ruti. After this Ruti is grateful to Jacob, but Laban abuses her more than ever.


Bilhah's story about the goddess Uttu is a myth of empowerment that shows the art of spinning wool as a sacred gift to women. Bilhah describes the male god Nanna as being scornful of women for their stupidity. However, after Nanna realizes that women can learn to spin wool, he views them with more respect. Before hearing this story, Dinah views spinning as a chore that she can't do very well. After hearing the story, Dinah becomes inspired and confident. Soon with Bilhah's guidance Dinah learns to spin well. This goddess myth, therefore, elevates women to a status of equality to men.

The red tent fosters the sharing of empowering goddess myths. Joseph and Dinah also empower each other by sharing stories; Joseph tells his sister about El and his relationship with Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. The stories of El and the goddess myths show the two sides of the divine: one nurturing, one forceful and demanding.

Simon and Levi mock their younger brothers Zebulun and Dan for playing with Joseph and Dinah, who are even younger. However, this criticism seems aimed at Zebulun and Dan for doing stereotypically feminine things. For example, Simon and Levi jeer at their brothers for allowing themselves to be led around by babes. In other words males should not meekly follow inferior people but instead should be leaders. Also Zebulun and Dan often help with the spinning as they spend time with Joseph and Dinah. However, after Zebulun and Dan are mocked, they play separately and no longer do "women's work." Instead they partake in more "masculine" games, such as hunting and wrestling.

Strict patriarchies invite abuse of power, as readers see in Laban's relationship with Ruti. Laban wagers Ruti in a game of chance, as if she were a dog or an object. Because she is a woman, he views her as an inferior being. Leah and her sisters are appalled by this abuse. Leah begs and flatters Jacob to persuade him to get Ruti back, and Jacob gives various goods in exchange for Ruti. By doing this Jacob continues to treat Ruti as an object to be bought and sold. In a strict patriarchy, therefore, justice can only be achieved by playing along with the game or system.

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