Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 3 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 3 : My Story | Summary



Jacob leads his family on the journey toward Canaan. On the road Inna meets Jacob and begs him to let her join his family. Jacob allows the midwife to come along. Inna tells Rachel and other women about an incident in which she was called to help a pregnant girl who was too young to bear children. After the baby and mother both died, Inna cursed the father. Insulted, the father threatened to incite the men against her. As a result Inna decided to leave by joining Jacob's family on their journey.

On the journey Dinah hears men and women sing together for the first time. The travelers approach a river. For Dinah the river is a new experience, and she senses a spiritual connection with the water. When she crosses the river with her family, Dinah realizes she can float on the water, a sensation that seems magical.

One morning Laban storms into Jacob's camp and demands that his teraphim be returned to him. Jacob claims he does not have the idols but tells Laban to search the camp if he wants to. Laban searches everywhere except the red tent and finds nothing. Finally he overcomes his discomfort and enters the red tent. Rachel tells Laban that she took the teraphim and bathed them in her menstrual blood. Disgusted by this, Laban lets Rachel keep the teraphim. Laban forms a truce with Jacob and leaves.

As the family continues on its journey, Jacob worries about being greeted with hostility in Canaan by his brother Esau. Having followed Rebecca's plan, Jacob tricked his father, Isaac, into giving his blessing to him instead of to Esau. Jacob fears that Esau will seek revenge. All of the family except for Jacob cross another river. Jacob says he will make camp alone and join his family in the morning. However, the next morning Reuben, Simon, and Judah find Jacob beaten and naked. Jacob is in agony because his hip joint has been dislocated. Reuben resets the joint, but Jacob is still racked with pain. The family stays by the river for two months as Jacob's hip gradually heals. Dinah and Joseph explore the area and come to the place where Jacob had camped alone. Dinah senses stillness and death. Suddenly a huge black boar charges them. Dinah and Joseph flee to the river, chased by the boar. However, when Joseph cuts his foot and cries in pain the boar stops in its tracks. After this incident Joseph begins to have powerful dreams.


In Part 2, Chapter 3 the themes of patriarchy and female empowerment are interwoven through Inna's story. At earlier points in the novel women take covert action to exert power, for example when Rachel secretly drugs Kemuel's drink. In this chapter Diamant shows the consequence of a woman taking overt action in a strict, patriarchal society. Inna accuses a man of getting a girl pregnant when she was too young to bear children. As a result Inna is almost killed by the man. She flees in fear that men will abuse her. When a woman breaks out of her submissive role, she does so at the risk of her life.

Rachel uses both the red tent and menstrual blood to protect herself and her sisters and to safeguard their teraphim from Laban. The teraphim represent female empowerment through religion. Menstrual blood, which flows in the tent, is a life-giving force for women. Although Laban is unaware of the full meaning of these symbols for women, he knows the tent and menstrual blood are the province of women alone. Laban has to gather all his courage to even enter the red tent. When he realizes that the teraphim have been soaked in Rachel's "unclean" menstrual blood, he views them as contaminated, unfit for handling by men. Rachel uses the tools within her limited realm to claim the teraphim and their spirituality for herself and her female companions.

The symbolic meanings of the red tent proliferate throughout the novel. The red tent represents the power of women sharing stories and using secret knowledge and rituals. It is also the safe place where women share stories, rituals, and secret knowledge. It intimidates men; it is all about the mystery of women, and therein lies their power. Thus the red tent becomes a symbol for women bonding in community.

Jacob is the supreme leader of his family. However, he places himself under a divine patriarch named El, who can be harsher and more demanding than Jacob is with his family. For instance, Jacob has had a spiritual experience with El in which he is beaten and has his hip dislocated. As a result he is in agony for days. When Joseph and Dinah find the place where Jacob fought with El, Dinah senses that the air feels dead, like "Ruti lying in the wadi." This simile forms a direct connection between the harsh El and the abuse often found in patriarchies. When Joseph and Dinah are chased by a fierce black boar, bringing the menace of death in animal form, Joseph cuts his foot and cries in pain. This cry stops the boar. Once again pain has an influence with male spirituality. From this terrifying experience Joseph is empowered with vivid dreams. Jacob and Joseph are entwined in a harsh relationship with a fierce god.

In contrast to this severe male spirituality, Dinah has a much different experience with the river. Dinah finds the water in the river to be gentle, caressing, and magical. At the same time the water is supportive of her, something she realizes when she floats. This is an analogy for Dinah's personal spirituality. Inna tells Dinah, "You are a child of water. Your spirit answered the spirit of the river."

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