Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 5 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 5 : My Story | Summary

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Summary

Jacob brings his family to meet his mother, Rebecca, at the barley festival. Dinah is dazzled by Rebecca's tent, which shimmers in the sunlight. Despite her age Rebecca retains the beauty of youth. She remains aloof when Jacob introduces his children and wives to her. Pilgrims often come to Rebecca for advice or divination and refer to her as the Oracle. Rebecca is waited on by 10 women, all named Deborah after Rebecca's nursemaid. As a meal is prepared Jacob's father, Isaac, visits. Isaac greets his wife with reserved affection, but he embraces his son, whom he has not seen for decades. Jacob introduces his family to Isaac, and then they share a meal. Rebecca tells a story about how her first seven days with Isaac were blessed by the gods. She also shares her grief about bearing so many stillborn sons and daughters.

In her tent Rebecca interrogates Leah. Rebecca then meets with Rachel and treats her with affection. After this Rebecca talks with Zilpah and lets her know the time and place of her death. Rebecca frowns at Bilhah and turns away from her without saying a word. Soon Adath arrives with her daughter Tabea. Dinah and Tabea are happy to see each other. Since Dinah last saw her, Tabea has matured into a woman. Rebecca is furious with Adath for wasting Tabea's first blood instead of offering it as a sacrifice to Innana, the great mother goddess. Adath whimpers as she crumples to the ground. Mortified, Tabea begs Rebecca to take her as a servant. But Rebecca ignores Tabea as servants take the young woman away. After seeing this, Dinah hates Rebecca. Leah explains to Dinah that Rebecca had to reject Tabea to preserve the ways of Innana. This goddess gave the gift of menstrual blood to women. Leah and her sisters celebrate this gift in the red tent, but many women have forgotten Innana gift.

Several days later Leah tells Dinah that Rebecca wants her to stay after Jacob and his family leaves. Leah wishes she could stay with Dinah, but Rebecca won't allow it. Dinah is frightened and angry about staying behind with the grandmother she has grown to hate. Dinah stays with Rebecca for several months. During this time Dinah helps Rebecca put on makeup and observes her grandmother performing rituals. Rebecca sees most people as inferiors and harshly criticizes Dinah's mother and aunts. Most of all Rebecca criticizes her husband, Isaac. Rachel has the Deborahs perform the traditional rituals in the red tent, but Rebecca and Dinah do not enter this tent because neither of them have started to menstruate. Dinah watches Rebecca deal with various pilgrims who have come for help. Dinah's attitude toward Rebecca softens somewhat when she sees her lovingly treat the sores of a lame boy. Rebecca tells Dinah that she will have to face a great sorrow, but she doesn't know what it is. The old woman says that her religious traditions will perish after her death. Rebecca then forgives Dinah for hating her. A few days later Reuben comes to fetch Dinah, who leaves knowing she has failed to please her grandmother.

Analysis

Arrogance and abusive behavior are not only the province of men, but are instead a matter of power. Because Rebecca has power through her fierce devotion to the goddess Innana, she has developed arrogance. She sees herself and her goddess as being superior to anything else—similar to how Simon and Levi see themselves and their god as superior. Such a fanatical conviction that leaves no room for other beliefs or ways of life leads to abuse. For some reason Rebecca sees Bilhah as inferior and humiliates her. Such behavior is perplexing considering Bilhah's kind nature. Also Rebecca abuses Adath and her daughter Tabea. Rebecca feels she has no choice. To preserve the rituals of Innana, she must reject Adath and her daughter.

Rebecca is capable of showing affection toward people such as the lame boy. The reader might wonder why she shows love to this boy and not to most other people. The boy might have touched her heart because of all her miscarriages. Also her femininity, in its maternal manifestation, enables her to sympathize with the utterly powerless and suffering boy—something Laban, for example, could not manage with the powerless, suffering Ruti.

Rebecca might also have shown affection for the boy because she sensed that Innana wanted her to. Tending to the boy's wound would please her goddess. This reason is supported through Rebecca's use of the red tent and the Deborahs. Rebecca has the Deborahs perform the traditional rituals in the red tent as required by Innana. Rebecca and Dinah stay out of the tent because they are not menstruating. The Deborahs are pleased by their rituals in the red tent, but the Deborahs all seem similar, without any distinctive differences. Rebecca obviously wants this conformity and promotes it by giving them all the same name. For Rebecca the main goal is to perform the rituals as expected and to have the desired results. The individual needs and desires of the Deborahs do not matter. Through Rebecca readers see that strict adherence to power is disruptive of humanity for both men and women.

In contrast Leah and her sisters have a more organic and flexible experience in the red tent. They perform rituals to Innana, but these rituals do not override the individuality of the participants. In fact the distinct personalities of Leah and her sisters are appreciated and enhanced in the red tent. Leah is not nearly as strict as Rebecca in her relationship with Innana. As a result she allows Dinah into the red tent even though technically the girl should not be allowed in. Dinah learns that rules and power can be bent, if not broken.

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