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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 4 : My Story | Summary

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Summary

Esau's eldest son, Eliphaz, informs Jacob that his father and his tribe are coming. Jacob still worries about Esau attacking him. Jacob meets Esau as the tribe of each patriarch looks on. Jacob bows down in supplication, but Esau indicates that such subservience is not necessary. The two men embrace and cry. Jacob gives gifts to Esau. After this Jacob and Esau introduce their respective sons and wives. The women of both tribes prepare a celebration festival. Dinah makes friends with a daughter of Esau named Tabea, who is about the same age as Dinah. Tabea does not want to have children because she fears giving birth. Dinah, though, says she wants children and does not fear life. At the festive meal the wives and their servants serve the men. Afterward the wives and girls eat their meal. Jacob and Esau share stories about the god El and the goddess Innana. The men then sing a bawdy song, after which Esau's women sing beautiful songs in harmony. Dinah is amazed by this singing. Eventually most of the celebrants go to sleep, except for Dinah and Tabea, who slip off together.

The next morning Jacob and Esau part with "declarations of love." Jacob leads his family to an area near the village of Succoth. He claims this land for his tribe, and they live there for two years. During this time Levi and Simon replace Reuben as Jacob's closest advisors. Bilhah, Rachel, and Leah each have a miscarriage. Leah and Dinah bury Leah's stillborn beneath an old tree. Jacob's flocks grow, making him a prosperous man. Levi, Simon, and Judah each marry, while Reuben remains unmarried.

One morning a woman named Werenro brings a message from Jacob's mother, Rebecca. Rebecca invites Jacob and his family to the barley festival. Dinah is stunned by the messenger's distinctive appearance. Werenro has red hair, wears a shimmering silver dress, and speaks with a friendly informality. After Werenro tells a myth from her homeland, Dinah senses her loneliness. The girl places her hand on Werenro's shoulder. With tears in her eyes Werenro kisses Dinah and thanks her.

Analysis

Jacob's meeting with Esau offers the promise of a new beginning for Jacob and his family. They have traveled a long way to Canaan with the hope of starting a new life, if Esau welcomes them. However, like many of the other births in this novel, this birth for Jacob's family is shrouded by the threat of death. When Jacob realizes Esau and his tribe are coming, he berates himself for leaving his family in a precarious position in case of an attack. Jacob expects he and his tribe will be slaughtered by Esau. But the threat of death is replaced by a joyous welcome, which leads to a rebirth for Jacob and his family.

The customs of Esau's women are in contrast with those of Jacob's women. Esau's daughter Tabea explains to Dinah that women in her tribe do not "mark the moon's death and rebirth together." Apparently Esau's women do not have a red tent, and Tabea says she fears childbirth after seeing women suffer and die in labor. She fears giving birth because she has no female support system. Dinah has also witnessed women suffering while giving birth, but she embraces her fertility because of the bond she feels toward other women. To Dinah childbirth is also part of the life and death cycle that is celebrated with various rituals by her mother and aunts in the red tent.

Both Jacob and Esau's tribes have a strict ranking system. For example, the eldest son from each tribe stands behind his patriarch. Men eat first and are served by women. After this women eat and are served by slaves, who undoubtedly eat last. The men even sing before the women are allowed to sing. Some, such as Reuben and Joseph, show their appreciation for the women's singing by applauding, while others do not show this courtesy. Men thus vary in how strictly they live out their patriarchal rules.

An important shift in the power structure of Jacob's patriarchy occurs in this chapter. Levi and Simon replace Reuben as Jacob's closest advisors. Reuben is a gentle soul who treats women with a kindly manner. By contrast Levi and Simon are more arrogant and condescend to women. Also the brothers fulfill their patriarchal duties by marrying, while Reuben remains single. This exchange in positions represents the extension of patriarchal power along with its potential for abusive behaviors.

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