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The Red Tent | Symbols

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The Red Tent

The red tent represents female community and its capacity to empower women. As women perform various rituals in the tent, they use secret knowledge to empower themselves in defiance of the patriarchal culture. When women give birth in the tent, they support and validate each other. Leah says of the time after birth, "The second month was such a delight. ... My sisters treated us both like queens." The red tent brings women together in various ways and, as a result, strengthens them.

The color of the tent has a symbolic meaning. Red represents menstrual blood, which reflects women's ability to give life.

Blood

Blood symbolizes both the ability to give life and the senseless loss of life. For example, the first menstrual blood of a woman—symbol of fertility—is used in a ritual to encourage the growth of plants: "the first-moon blood of a virgin was a powerful libation for the garden." Such an offering pleases the goddess Inanna. Rebecca feels so strongly about this power of menstrual blood that she becomes fanatical about it. After Adath wastes menstrual blood, Rebecca slaps her and makes her grovel. Later Leah explains to Dinah why Rebecca sees menstrual blood as being so important, saying the "gift of Inanna courses through us, cleansing the body ... preparing the body to receive ... life."

Blood represent the senseless waste of a life in the scene where Shalem is murdered and Dinah is covered with her husband's blood. Dinah wakes up to a nightmare, seeing blood flowing out of Shalem's neck, draining life from his body. In this situation blood signifies death; Dinah says, "I was drowning in my lover's blood." In addition to the literal loss of her husband, Dinah's marriage has been destroyed. This blood emphasizes the waste of life that happens when people act out of greed and narrow-minded prejudice.

Teraphim

Throughout the novel, female spirituality has a strong connection with tangible elements, such as blood, earth, and water. The teraphim, or idols, represent the female connection to the divine; two are goddess idols. The connection is an earthy, physical one. Zilpah in particular believes they have physical power; she feels so attached to the teraphim that the idea of parting from them terrifies her.

Leah, Rachel, and Bilhah do not have such a strong relationship with the teraphim. Even so they see keeping them as being important. Rachel sees them as a source of power because they signify her and her sisters' birthright. For Rachel the teraphim represent the tradition of female spirituality that has been passed down through generations. As such they are important for the sisters to keep.

In contrast male spirituality is more abstract. For example, Jacob has dreams about El but does not seem to relate to him through physical elements.

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