Literature Study GuidesThe Red TentPart 3 Chapter 1 Summary

The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Part 3, Chapter 1 : Egypt | Summary

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Summary

Nehesi, Re-nefer's steward, carries Dinah into the palace in Shechem. He is the only male who survived the massacre carried out by Dinah's brothers. Because Dinah is hysterical, Re-nefer has her gagged. Re-nefer, Nehesi, and Dinah sneak out of the palace and head to the port of Joppa. There they take a boat to Egypt. Re-nefer realizes that Dinah is pregnant with Shalem's child and is overjoyed. Re-nefer is kind to Dinah, but she never speaks about the tragic deaths of her husband or son. As a result Dinah has to bottle up her grief, even though she is plagued by nightmares about her husband's death.

In Egypt Re-nefer is welcomed into her brother's house. She sobs in her brother Nakht-re's arms as she relates the tragic events in Shechem. Re-nefer passes Dinah off as her son's consort, not his wife. Also Re-nefer mentions nothing about Dinah being related to the men who killed Hamor and Shalem. In Nakht-re's house Dinah is treated somewhat like a servant and somewhat like Re-nefer's niece. Dinah knows she is bearing a son. Soon her nightmares are replaced by joyful dreams about her son. Dinah's labor, though, is a difficult one. The infant's breech position in the womb is dangerous. Re-nefer tries to encourage Dinah as much as possible. In severe pain, Dinah asks for a knife to perform an episiotomy, cutting a larger opening for the child. Fearful, the midwife uses a knife as Dinah wishes. Soon the baby comes out but isn't breathing. The midwife cuts the umbilical cord and uses a reed to start the infant's breathing.

The next morning Dinah finds that her son is gone. Confused, Dinah shouts for Re-nefer, who comes in carrying the infant. Re-nefer explains that Dinah's son will be raised as a prince of Egypt. Dinah will nurse him and care for him. Even though the boy will know that Dinah bore him, he will also view Re-nefer as a mother. Dinah takes the baby and whispers the name Bar-Shalem to him. Re-nefer overhears this and sternly tells Dinah that if she ever mentions that name again she will be thrown out of the house. Dinah must call her son Re-mose. Dinah is treated kindly as she nurses her baby and cares for him. After the child is weaned he continues to spend most of his time with Dinah. Re-nefer visits often, bringing the boy fine toys. Re-mose grows to love Re-nefer. Dinah raises her toddler and also works in a garden. As Re-mose grows into an active boy, he spends more time with his uncle Nakht-re. The boy also watches Nakht-re working as a scribe. At the age of nine Re-mose prepares to go to school to become a scribe. Dinah feels an aching grief about her son leaving. After she kisses her son good-bye, Dinah feels once more alone in Egypt.

Analysis

The birth-and-death theme from the previous chapter is further explored in this one. Traumatized by the death of her husband, Dinah is brought into a new life through the aid of Re-nefer and her steward, Nehesi. They bring Dinah to Egypt, where she will live in a different way than before. This journey of rebirth for Dinah, though, is plagued with images of death. Dinah often has nightmares about the murder of her husband: "I woke clutching my neck, drowning in blood, screaming for Shalem."

Dinah is also reborn in giving birth herself. During her pregnancy Dinah's nightmares are replaced with happy dreams about her son. Even so the birth of Dinah's son is entwined with death. Dinah has a difficult labor, which could kill her and her baby. In fact during her labor, Dinah feels the shadow of death lurking in the corner of the room. Only through quick thinking does Dinah save her own life and the life of her son.

Blood symbolizes Dinah's transition from death to life. When Dinah travels in a boat to the house of Nakht-re, she stares at the water and notices that sometimes it has the color of blood. However, unlike the images of blood in Dinah's nightmare, this bloodlike image represents Dinah's journey into a new life.

Out of adversity, suffering, and Re-nefer's neglect of Dinah's feelings, Dinah eventually recovers herself. Re-nefer allows Dinah to raise her son, which helps her deal with her grief. However, Dinah's relationship with Re-mose has strict limitations. Dinah cannot raise her son as she would like but rather has to bring him up as an Egyptian. In fact she is not even allowed to give her son the name she wants. When Re-mose leaves to go to school and learn to be a scribe, Dinah realizes her role in her son's life is over, and her nightmares return.

Dinah, though, finds strength within, just as she saved her own life while giving birth. She recalls her experience with water and thinks of "the river where Joseph and I had been charged by an unseen power." Dinah has a strong spiritual connection with water, and her memories about water serve to strengthen her. Later Herya gives Dinah an idol of the water goddess Taweret, which also serves to reinforce her spirituality.

In a custom Dinah at first finds unusual, Egyptian husbands and wives share a meal together. The scene foreshadows how Egyptian customs will eventually contribute to Dinah's development as a woman.

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