Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 2 Chapter 7 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 2, Chapter 7 : My Story | Summary

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Summary

Leah travels with her daughter Dinah to Shechem, the city where Hamor is king. Dinah is awed by the sights and sounds of the city. After Leah and Dinah return home, a messenger from the queen Re-nefer asks for midwives from Jacob's tribe to come to the palace. In response Rachel and her assistant Dinah head for Shechem. In the city's palace Dinah is amazed by the spacious rooms. Rachel and Dinah attend to the pregnant woman, named Ashnan. Re-nefer befriends Rachel, and they go off for refreshments while Dinah waits for Ashnan's water to break. Hearing a man's voice, Dinah goes into another room and meets Shalem, the handsome first-born son of Hamor. Shalem and Dinah feel a strong sexual attraction for each other. After Rachel and Dinah help to deliver the baby, they return home.

Dinah has romantic thoughts about Shalem, but she realizes her mother and aunts see no change in her. Soon a king's messenger requests that Dinah come to the palace to distract Ashnan during her confinement. Dinah spends three weeks with Ashnan without seeing Shalem. One day Dinah goes to the market to buy figs, and Shalem comes to fetch her. In the palace Re-nefer leaves Shalem and Dinah alone, and they make passionate love. Dinah and Shalem spend days together, coupling, talking, and sleeping. Their love for each other grows into a fervent bond. Shalem tells Dinah that he wants his father Hamor to arrange a bride-price for her. This makes Dinah very happy.

Hamor travels with a wagon loaded with gifts to Jacob and presents his generous offer of a bride-price. But Jacob responds coldly. He has been influenced by Simon and Levi's denigration of Hamor and the foul city of Shechem. Jacob refuses to agree to the marriage until he talks with his sons. Shocked, Hamor returns to his city. Leah is against the marriage, but Rachel tells Jacob that it is a good match for Dinah. Shalem asks Hamor to return to Jacob as soon as possible because he loves Dinah so much. Bilhah visits Dinah at Shechem and is convinced that she loves Shalem. However, when Simon and Levi return home, they are horrified about the relationship between Shalem and Dinah. They claim that Dinah has been raped and dishonored. Joseph jokingly suggests that Jacob should make Hamor agree to have himself, his son, and the other men of Shechem circumcised to make them like Jacob's men. Jacob takes Joseph's idea seriously and presents this condition to Hamor. Although Hamor is shocked, he is persuaded by Shalem to accept the condition.

In Shechem, Shalem tells Dinah about the circumcision demand and tries to make light of it. However, Dinah is frightened and has a feeling of foreboding. As agreed, Hamor has the circumcision performed on all the men in Shechem, including his son and himself. Afterward Dinah nurses Shalem. During the night Dinah wakes up and sees blood covering her arms and Shalem's throat. She screams hysterically as Simon and Levi drag her away from her dead beloved. Dinah's brothers have killed all the men in Shechem.

Analysis

To Dinah, her sexual awakening changes her dramatically, yet her mother and aunts do not seem to notice this change. As a result Dinah develops a sense of her separateness from Leah and other women. The narrator says, "I delighted in the discovery of my solitude and protected it." In addition Dinah's sexual relationship with Shalem empowers her. She begins to understand more about her body and "the pleasures of love." She becomes more confident in her sexuality and her expression of love. The narrator says, "I gave him everything. I abandoned myself to him and in him." The second stage follows soon after this. Shalem wants to marry Dinah and vice versa. However, this stage is fraught with difficulties caused by the influence of the patriarchal system.

The problems arise through the patriarchal dynamics of Levi and Simon as well as Jacob. Levi and Simon have found themselves in a quandary. Both have an attitude of arrogant superiority and see themselves as the dominant sons of Jacob. After all they have become their father's closest advisors. Even so, according to the patriarchal system, the eldest son, Reuben, will get Jacob's birthright, and Joseph, as the favorite, would get the blessing. Levi and Simon, therefore, are trapped by the system they support so ardently and become frustrated and angry. They want the wealth and power that comes with the birthright and blessing, but instead they will end up as poor shepherds. Simon and Levi are against Dinah marrying Shalem because they think such a match will humiliate them more. As part of the king's household, Reuben will become a prince but they will remain nobodies. So Simon and Levi claim Dinah has been raped and dishonored.

Jacob's mind has been poisoned by Simon and Levi. Also Jacob is caught in the dynamic of competing patriarchs. Jacob is the most powerful patriarch in the countryside; Hamor is the most powerful patriarch in the city. Each patriarch worships different gods and leads different lifestyles. Through Dinah's marriage to Shalem, these two patriarchal systems will have to intermingle, and Hamor's patriarchy might become dominant because he is wealthier. Jacob, though, has sworn loyalty to his god alone and cannot tolerate accepting any other forms of belief. As a result Jacob responds to Hamor's offer of a bride-price with hostility. Jacob ends up demanding an unreasonable condition to the marriage, the circumcision of the men in Shechem. By doing this Jacob will achieve an outward sign that his patriarchy and god are dominant. El demanded that Jacob's ancestor Abram circumcise all male offspring. Circumcision is a sign of the covenant between El and Abram and his descendants, including Jacob and his tribe. However, even this outward sign apparently is not good enough for Jacob, and tragedy results.

Dinah's marriage can be seen as her birth into a new and happy life. Even so she is consumed by dread and fear of death because of the circumcision requirement. The pain Shalem and other men go through from the circumcision only increases her fear. The narrator states, "I lay on the bed ... shivering with anger and fear and unrecognized foreboding." Dinah's anxieties are justified. She wakes during the night to find herself and her beloved covered with blood. Shalem's throat has been slit; he is dead.

In this incident spilled blood represents the waste of life. While Dinah's first blood is life enhancing, Shalem's blood flows "like a river" as life drains from him. This tragic death leads to a painful birth for Dinah into a new life, described in the next chapter.

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