Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 6 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 6 : My Story | Summary

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Summary

When Dinah returns from Rebecca's place to her home, she feels dissatisfied with everything, including the men's crude manners and her mother's bossiness. Gradually she becomes used to her home again and begins to feel sexual desire. Influenced by a dream of Jacob's, Simon and Levi strike an agreement with Shechem's king, Hamor, for a large piece of land. Jacob and his tribe relocate to this land, which everyone finds satisfactory except for Simon and Levi. When the well runs dry the two brothers accuse Hamor of cheating them. Simon and Levi have to do the arduous work of digging another well.

Soon Dinah gets her first period and tells Leah. Leah and her sisters are overjoyed. They pamper Dinah, putting henna on her palms and the bottoms of her feet, feeding her the best food, and massaging her back. Rachel brings out the teraphim and picks out one that looks like a smiling frog. Dinah's mother and aunts conduct a first-blood ritual for Dinah. The young woman lies naked face down on the earth with the little frog goddess near her. Rachel prays to Innana and uses a triangular device to break the lock of Dinah's "womb." The young woman's first blood flows into the earth. The experience makes Dinah feel euphoric. After the ritual Dinah finds herself on her back, covered by a blanket. Dinah describes a dream she had to Inna. The midwife claims Dinah dreamed about Taweret, an ancient Egyptian goddess who lives by the river. Inna says Dinah's destiny is connected with water.

Jacob learns how his wives used the teraphim and becomes upset. Because he has sworn loyalty to one god, El, he shatters the teraphim and buries them. After this Jacob looks with suspicion on the activities that take place in the red tent. Also Levi's and Simon's wives avoid the red tent. Rachel and Leah exchange harsh words, and an old animosity flares between the two women. Inna and Rachel are called to help deliver babies, and Dinah often accompanies them. Dinah learns a lot about midwifery and realizes that Rachel and Inna are also constantly seeking to learn more. Rachel tells Dinah that she will become a good midwife, praise that makes Dinah proud.

Analysis

In the previous chapter Rebecca takes a position of superiority in an effort to preserve the traditions of the goddess Innana. As a result she often looks on other people with disdain. When Dinah returns to her home, some of Rebecca's attitude seems to have rubbed off on her. Instead of finding her home to be relaxed and friendly, she finds it dirty and confused. Interestingly, Dinah becomes accustomed to her home again as she senses her sexual desire. It is as if embracing life with all its imperfections allows her to embrace her sexuality. She no longer feels above the community, but part of it.

This chapter entwines female empowerment with the theme of life's stages. Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah treat Dinah in a special way and conduct a first-blood ritual for her to mark Dinah's emergence into womanhood. However, these actions have another purpose: to empower Dinah. When Leah and her sister feed delicious food to Dinah and massage her back, they make her feel that becoming a woman is precious, beautiful, and something to be proud of. The narrator says, "It was good to be a woman!" Also the first-blood ritual emphasizes for Dinah that becoming a woman has a deep spiritual quality. By allowing her first blood to soak into the earth, Dinah becomes part of the mysterious cycle of life. In addition, after the ceremony Dinah has a dream about an Egyptian goddess, creating a personal spiritual connection for her.

This chapter also examines how patriarchy drives a wedge between men and women, thereby harming female empowerment. For example, Jacob destroys the teraphim because he has sworn to worship only his fierce, divine patriarch El. Of course, being a patriarch, Jacob feels that if he has sworn loyalty only to El, then the rest of his tribe, including his wives, should do the same. As Leah indicates, the destruction of the teraphim themselves does not really matter. What is more important is what this destruction represents—the repression of spirituality and power. Leah says, "The problem is with the wives of my sons, who do not follow our ways." These ways include the worship of female spirituality in the red tent. Before long Leah's worries prove to be well founded. Many of the wives of Jacob's sons refuse to take part in activities in the red tent. The passing on of female spirituality from one generation to the next has begun to weaken. The choice for these Semitic women is becoming clear. Either they accept the patriarchal god and patriarchal system or they cling to the old goddesses and become outcasts among their own people.

Why does Jacob become stricter about worshipping only El? Earlier in the novel he seems to accept the women's goddesses and their activities in the red tent. The answer probably lies in the increasing influence of his closest advisors, Simon and Levi. Their male arrogance seems to be increasing. Even though they receive a large piece of land from Hamor, they are angry about the well going dry. Their male pride cannot stand this, and so they accuse Hamor of cheating them. They see this strong ruler to be a threat to their own patriarchy. Simon's and Levi's extreme attitude seems to be having an effect on Jacob.

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