The Red Tent | Study Guide

Anita Diamant

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The Red Tent | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

In an ancient Semitic tribe located in the Near East, a girl named Rachel is ecstatic about meeting a handsome stranger who wants to marry her. Rachel's father, Laban, wonders what the stranger did to Rachel, who is known for her beauty. The man she met is Jacob, who is the son of Laban's sister. Laban brusquely welcomes Jacob to his tribe. Laban has three other daughters, Leah, the eldest; Zilpah, the second; and Bilhah, the youngest. Leah is practical and nurturing. Zilpah feels a close connection to the gods and goddesses. Bilhah is quiet and warm-hearted. As a bride price for Rachel, Jacob agrees to work for Laban. As part of Rachel's dowry Jacob will receive Bilhah as a concubine. Rachel fears she will not be able to marry Jacob because she hasn't begun menstruating. When she gets her first menstrual period, she and her sister rejoice.

Jacob courts Rachel but also feels an attraction to Leah. Influenced by his mother, Rebecca, Jacob had tricked his father Isaac into giving his blessing to him instead of to his older brother, Esau. Because of Esau's anger Jacob left home and sought Laban's tribe. Zilpah convinces Rachel that having sexual intercourse is extremely painful. As a result Rachel lets Leah secretly take her place as Jacob's bride. Rachel, eventually, realizes she has been tricked. Jacob loves Leah but pretends to be upset about being deceived. To appease Jacob, Laban gives him Zilpah as a concubine. Jacob soothes Rachel and marries her as well.

Leah gives birth to a son. Rachel has a miscarriage and becomes jealous of Leah for having a child. After Laban's wife dies Leah becomes the leader of activities within the red tent. Jacob and his tribe become prosperous. Leah gives birth to several sons, but Rachel suffers through several miscarriages. As Rachel tries various remedies to ensure a successful pregnancy, she learns about midwifery from Inna, the midwife of Jacob's tribe.

Rachel becomes depressed about not bearing children. Feeling sorry for Rachel, Bilhah offers to bear a son for her. Rachel agrees. So Bilhah sleeps with Jacob and gets pregnant. However, when her son is born Rachel realizes that the boy is not hers but Bilhah's. Leah convinces Zilpah to sleep with Jacob. Zilpah gets pregnant and has twin boys. Jacob now has four wives, 10 sons, and a prosperous herd. Jacob tells his sons about his god El. El showed mercy to Jacob's ancestral patriarch Abram by preventing him from sacrificing his son Isaac. Laban beats his wife Ruti when she stops bearing children for him. When Ruti gets pregnant again, she convinces Rachel to perform an abortion. Leah has a daughter, whom she names Dinah. Soon Rachel gets pregnant and fears having another miscarriage. But Rachel gives birth to a son, whom she names Joseph.

Part 2

Dinah grows up well loved by her mother, Leah, and her three aunts. Dinah becomes close to Joseph, and the two often play together. Spurred on by dreams about El, Jacob wants to leave Laban and go to his homeland, Canaan. Zilpah hates the idea of leaving because she doesn't want to be separated from her family's domestic idols, called teraphim. Jacob negotiates his departure from Laban, agreeing to take only the few brindled and spotted sheep with him. Laban doesn't realize that these sheep are really hardier than the others. In despair about Leah and her sisters leaving, Ruti commits suicide. As Jacob prepares for the journey, Rachel secretly steals the teraphim. Jacob leaves with his tribe and flocks.

Laban catches up to Jacob and insists that the teraphim be returned to him. Jacob claims he doesn't have the idols and lets Laban search the camp for them. Rachel tells Laban that she has covered the teraphim with her menstrual blood. Disgusted, Laban leaves without his idols. As Jacob approaches Canaan, he worries that he will be greeted with hostility by his brother Esau. Jacob has a strange spiritual encounter, which leaves him bruised and with a dislocated hip. As Jacob recovers, Dinah and Joseph are chased by a ferocious black boar. After this Joseph begins to have powerful dreams. Jacob meets Esau, who welcomes his brother with love. Jacob's tribe and Esau's tribe share a festive meal. Jacob leads his tribe to land close to the city of Shechem, where they make their home. Jacob's flocks grow, making him prosperous. His sons Levi, Simon, and Judah each marry, but the eldest son Reuben remains unmarried. A female servant named Werenro brings a message from Jacob's mother, Rebecca, who invites Jacob and his family to a barley festival.

At the barley festival Rebecca separately interviews Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. Dinah hates haughty Rebecca when she treats Dinah's friend Tabea in a harsh manner. Rebecca sees herself as a preserver of female divinity and the menstrual rituals in the red tent. Dinah stays with Rebecca for three months but fails to warm up to her grandmother. Rebecca says her religious traditions will perish after her death.

Simon and Levi strike an agreement with Shechem's king, Hamor, for a large piece of land. Jacob and his tribe move to this land. But Simon and Levi believe that Hamor has cheated them when the well goes dry, and they become resentful of the king. Dinah's menstruation begins. Leah and her sisters perform a ritual with Dinah to honor her becoming a woman. Jacob learns that his wives used the teraphim and, in a rage, he destroys the idols. He grows suspicious of the women's activities in the red tent. Dinah learns the skills of a midwife from Inna and Rachel.

Rachel and Dinah travel to Shechem to attend to a pregnant woman in the palace. While there, Dinah and Shalem, the son of the king, are attracted to each other. Later, Shalem's mother, Re-nefer, acts as a matchmaker for her son by bringing Dinah back to the palace. Dinah and Shalem make passionate love, and Shalem says he wants to take her as his bride. Hamor offers Jacob a generous bride price for Dinah, but Jacob says he has to talk to his sons before accepting it. Jacob has been influenced by Simon's and Levi's slander of Hamor. Simon and Levi claim that Dinah has been raped and dishonored. Jacob tells Hamor that Shalem can marry Dinah only if Shalem, Hamor, and all the other men in Shechem are circumcised. Even though he is horrified by this harsh demand, Hamor agrees. After the circumcisions Shalem recovers with Dinah. During the night Shalem is murdered, and Simon and Levi drag the hysterical Dinah away. Dinah's brothers have killed all the men in Shechem.

Back at Jacob's camp enraged Dinah curses Jacob and her brothers for murdering righteous men. She heads back to Shechem and finds that the city gate is locked. After the massacre at Shechem, people want to take revenge on Jacob, who tries to hide by taking the name Isra'EL. Rachel dies giving birth to a son named Benjamin. Reuben and Bilhah have a love affair, which causes Jacob to disinherit Reuben. Eventually, Bilhah, Zilpah, and Leah die. Dinah would have witnessed this if Reuben had found her at the closed gate. But Reuben came too late, and a servant of Re-nefer named Nehesi carries Dinah away.

Part 3

Nehesi is the only man who survived the massacre at Shechem. He, Dinah, and Re-nefer, who is Egyptian, sneak out of Shechem and head for Egypt. Re-nefer looks after Dinah because she is pregnant with Shalem's child. In Egypt Re-nefer and Dinah stay at the house of Re-nefer's brother, Nakht-re. Dinah gives birth to a son, but Re-nefer tells her that the child will be raised as a prince of Egypt. Dinah wants to name her son Bar-Shalem, but Re-nefer insists he be named Re-mose. The boy grows up viewing both Dinah and Re-nefer as his mothers. At the age of nine Re-mose is sent away to school to learn to be a scribe. Dinah knows the bond with her son will begin to weaken.

At Nakht-re's house Dinah befriends the midwife Meryt, who is impressed with Dinah's skills as a midwife. Dinah stays in the house, fearing that she'll be recognized as a member of Jacob's tribe if she goes outside. Eventually Meryt convinces Dinah to assist her on midwife calls. At the marketplace Dinah and Meryt meet a woodcarver named Benia. A spark ignites between Dinah and Benia, but she rejects his romantic overtures. After spending years at school Re-mose returns home and attends a feast to celebrate his circumcision on becoming a man. Soon Re-mose leaves with his teacher for Kush.

Re-nefer dies, and a year later Nakht-re dies. When his house is sold Meryt and Dinah leave to stay at the home of Meryt's son. There Meryt and Dinah continue to work together as midwives. Benia meets Dinah again, and they get married. Benia and Dinah form a close, passionate relationship. Re-mose visits Dinah and asks her to help deliver the child of his master's wife. Dinah realizes that she and Re-mose have become strangers, as she feared. The master's name is Zafenat Paneh-ah. Dinah travels to Zafenat's house and attends to the childbirth. Afterward Dinah becomes ill and recovers in a room in Zafenat's house. When her nurse describes Zafenat's past, Dinah realizes that Zafenat is her brother Joseph. Re-mose learns that Zafenat was called Joseph and asks him about this. Joseph (Zafenat) admits that his brothers murdered Dinah's first husband, Re-mose's father. Enraged, Re-mose threatens to seek vengeance on Joseph. Joseph meets Dinah and asks her to convince Re-mose not to make any more threats. If Re-mose continues to seek vengeance, Joseph will have to kill him. Dinah tells Re-mose about the story of her love for his father. She then says good-bye to her son.

When Dinah returns home she tells the full story of her tragic first marriage to Meryt and Benia. Afterward Dinah feels free from a crushing burden. Meryt dies, and many years pass. Joseph visits Dinah and tells her that Jacob wants to bless Joseph's two sons. Joseph has never completely forgiven his brothers and Jacob for sending him into slavery. Joseph asks Dinah and Benia to accompany him on his trip to Jacob's tribe. Dinah and Benia agree. Jacob's tribe has grown large and works as shepherds for the king of Egypt. Joseph and his sons visit Jacob, who is blind and partially delirious. Dinah realizes that no one in Jacob's tribe, including her surviving brothers, recognizes her. As Dinah and her relatives wait for Jacob to die, a girl named Gera tells Dinah stories about her brothers and their wives. Gera then relates the story of Dinah and her tragic marriage to Shalem. Dinah is glad that her memory will not be forgotten in her family. After Jacob dies Judah recognizes Dinah and gives her a gift from Leah. The gift is Rachel's lapis ring. Dinah and Benia return home, and Dinah says good-bye to Joseph. Dinah spends her last years as a contented woman, surrounded by a loving husband and friends. When Dinah dies she sees an empowering vision of her mother, aunts, and other significant women in her life who have passed away.

The Red Tent Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 In the Near East Jacob joins Laban's tribe.

Rising Action

2 Jacob marries Leah and Rachel.

3 Leah gives birth to Dinah; Rachel gives birth to Joseph.

4 Traveling with her family, Dinah goes to Canaan.

5 Marking her womanhood, Dinah has her first blood ritual.

6 Dinah learns the skills of midwifery.

7 Dinah and Shalem fall in love; Shalem is murdered.

8 Leaving their tribe, Dinah curses her father and brother.

9 In Egypt Dinah gives birth to a son.

10 Dinah marries Benia and practices midwifery.


11 Dinah meets Joseph; her son learns about his father.

Falling Action

12 Benia and Meryt hear Dinah's tragic story.

13 Dinah travels with Joseph to see Jacob.

14 Dinah realizes her family has not forgotten her story.


15 Dinah dies a contented woman and joins her ancestors.

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