Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 2 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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



Jacob feels restless with the desire to leave Laban and has dreams in which El urges him to go to his homeland, Canaan. Rachel, Leah, and Bilhah resign themselves to leaving, but Zilpah rejects the idea. She fears leaving her personal goddess, Nanshe, behind with Laban. Indeed, the teraphim (small figurines that each contain a god's or goddess's spirit), including Nanshe, belong to Laban. Rachel concocts a plan that involves stealing the teraphim and taking them along on their journey. Three days later Dinah sees her mother, Leah, and her aunt Rachel talking to Jacob about the trip. This sight amazes Dinah because she has never seen Leah and Rachel together in Jacob's presence before. The two women usually try to avoid each other's company as much as possible. After Leah and Rachel leave, Jacob addresses Dinah, smiling at her and saying her name for the first time that she can remember.

Jacob negotiates with Laban about his departure. Laban doesn't mind Jacob leaving but doesn't want him to take any of the herd or any of his wives' belongings. Finally Jacob says El has ordered him to leave. Fearful of El's wrath, Laban agrees to Jacob's terms for the departure. Jacob says he'll take only the brindled and spotted sheep with him, which are few in number. Laban senses a trick, but he can't figure out what it is. So he agrees. Jacob knows the brindled and spotted sheep are hardier. Leah and her sisters prepare for the journey. Ruti, though, falls into despair about these women leaving her alone with Laban. A few days before the departure Ruti goes missing. Eventually Dinah finds her dead with her wrists cut.

Laban and his son Beor go to the nearby town, leaving his other son Kemuel in charge of the camp. Rachel gives Kemuel a drink drugged with a sleeping potion. As Kemuel sleeps Rachel steals the teraphim from his tent. Soon the morning of the departure arrives. But Laban has still not returned from town. Anxious to leave, Rachel convinces Jacob to start the journey. Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, and their 11 sons and one daughter, Dinah, leave for Canaan. They take with them folded tents, various belongings, and a small flock of sheep and goats amid anxiousness and anticipation about the future.


The teraphim, introduced in this chapter, have a different significance for Leah and her sisters than they do for Laban. For the women the idols (two of which are goddesses) have a strong connection to their spiritual lives. In fact Zilpah's bond with her personal goddess Nanshe is so extreme that she doesn't want to leave the idol behind. Zilpah fears that if she and her sisters part with the teraphim death will plague their journey. Rachel devises a scheme to steal the teraphim and take them along on the journey. In contrast Laban has a simple attachment to the teraphim, seeing them almost as little people who give him advice. The teraphim show the significance of having a personal female divinity for Zilpah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Leah.

The themes of patriarchy and female empowerment are interwoven in this chapter. Rachel cannot overtly take an action that defies a man, so she falls back on secrecy, stealing the teraphim as Kemuel sleeps. However, despite this secrecy this action is assertive because by drugging Kemuel and taking the teraphim Rachel is helping to empower herself and her sisters. Leah's role emphasizes the degree to which women are confined in a patriarchy. Leah knows what should be done concerning the dismantling of the tents. However, because she is a woman Leah cannot give a direct order to a man about packing the tents. Instead she has to hide her intent by asking Jacob if he is ready to dismantle the tents. In this way Leah indirectly puts the idea in Jacob's head. Hearing this, Jacob orders the tents to be taken down.

Previously the author has shown how death or the threat of death often accompanies women when they give birth in the red tent. A metaphorical birth occurs as Jacob's tribe heads for a new life in Canaan. However, this birth is also accompanied by grief and death. Laban's bondwomen hate to see Jacob and his family leave and, as a result, grieve about the departure. Only two bondswomen go with Jacob; the rest are left behind. The bondswomen have shared joys and hardships with Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. Dinah remarks, "It was the end of a long sisterhood." Also the author pairs the birth of a new life for Jacob's tribe with the death of Ruti. Consumed by despair about the departure of Leah and her sisters, Ruti commits suicide. Dinah finds the corpse with "flies ... on her wrist, which was black with blood."

Ruti's suicide, of course, comments on the abuse that takes place in the patriarchal system. Beaten and broken, Ruti chooses death instead of being left alone with her abuser, Laban. When Dinah guards Ruti's corpse the girl feels anger at Ruti and questions why she submitted to Laban. These questions foreshadow Dinah's journey away from the strict patriarchy of Semitic tribes to broader horizons.

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