The Red Tent
In Diamants powerful novel The Red Tent the ever-silent Dinah from the 34th chapter of Gensis is finally given her own voice, and the story she tells is a much different one then expected. With the guiding hands of her four mothers, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah, all the wives of Jacob, we grow with Dinah from her childhood in Mesoptamia through puberty, where she is then entered into the red tent, and well off into her adulthood from Cannan to Egypt. Throughout her journey we learn how the red tent is constantly looked upon for encouragement, solace, and comfort. It is where women go once a month during menstration, where they have their babies, were they dwell in illness and most importantly, where they tell their stories, passing on wisdom and spinning collective memories. Their stories were like the offerings of hope and strength poured out before the Queen of Heavens, only these gifts were not for any god or goddessbut for me (3). It essentially becomes a symbol of womanly strength, love and learning and serves as the basis for relationships between mothers, sisters, and daughters.
With a heart-full of advice and wisdom, Dinah maturates from a simple- minded young girl to a valiant independent individual. For a moment I weighed the idea of keeping my secret and remaining a girl, the thought passes quickly. I could only be what I was. And that was a woman (170). This act of puberty is not only her initiation into womanhood but the red tent as well. She is no longer just an observer of stories, she is one of them, part of their community now. On account of this event, Dinahs sensuality begins to blossom and she is able to conceive the notion of true love.
It is at this point in the story, Diamants use of creative midrash is at its best. Midrashim is used to forge clever and innovative stories from loop-holes in biblical text. It is a way of elaborating on what was already written and shedding light onto those who are pushed aside as meaningless characters or events. In chapter 7 Diamant successfully transforms what was once looked upon as brutal rape into an animated love saga. In order to understand how she is able to pull of such an imaginative tale, we must look to the biblical narrative itself. Shortly after Jacob’s reunion with his twin brother Esau, Jacob settles in the city of Shechem. There, his daughter Dinah meets Shechem the prince of the land. The Bible tells us: “He saw her, and took her and lay with her by force.” (Genesis 34:2). This act is translated into todays concept of rape, but as the narrative continues we see how Shechem tries to justify his manner by claiming he fell victim to love. “Being drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and in love with the maiden, he spoke to the maiden tenderly (Genesis 34:3). This, however, is not admissible in the eyes of Israels men. Shechems behavior is considered an outrage in Israela thing not to be done, and therefore, hinders Shechems aspiration of marriage to her (Genesis 34:7). One of the ways he is able to seek mercy is by offering Dinahs brothers and father a high bride price. This offering along with a promise for all men to be circumcised in accordance with God’s command to their grandfather Abraham: “This is my covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised,” is a fitting plea to their ears and Dinah is wed off (Genesis 17:10). But what about Dinahs ears? Who is to say that she wants to marry this man who defiled her? What is her view on it all?
Ironically, there is no mention of Dinahs feelings or thoughts throughout Genesis 34. All the attention focuses not on Dinah, but the men around her. The one who is affected the most throughout this whole ordeal is somehow left in the shadow. There even is no reference to how she succumbs to being raped, and later deceived by her own blood.
After the entire male community gives consent and performs the deed, two of Dinahs brothers, Simeon and Levi, betray them and slaughter all the men of Shechem in their weakened state. They never bother to realize that one of their victims is now their sisters husband, a man she may have profound feelings for. They then go so far as to blame their malignant act of murder and pillage on her. Should our sister be treated like a whore? (34:31). Even her own father cast her aside, putting his reputation ahead of his daughters emotions, You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land (Genesis 34:30)
Dinah is no longer just a footnote or on those rare occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim in Diamants novel The Red Tent (1). Here Dinah breaks years of unbearable silence and is given the chance to emit what she has lacked for so long, both a voice and a story.
In chapter 7 Dinah tells how she and her aunt Rachel were the two midwives invited into the palace of Shechem by king Hamor in order to assist in his newest concubines, Ashnan, pregnancy. There, prince Shalems looks make Dinahs cheeks full of color and upon their brief encounter they share in an intimate moment. I did not wish to end this strange agony of confusion and need that came upon mefor on that day I was a girl who was ready for a man (183-184). Dinah assents to this affair although she states I thought perhaps it had been a mistake on my partbut my heart rebelled at the idea (185). This answers a question that is brought to mind after reading Genesis 34:2. Dinah tells us here that upon meeting this man for the first time she is captivated by him and yields to their encounter that leaves her drunk with happiness and questioning when he will return for her.
After being sentence back to the palace upon Ashnans wishes, Dinah confronts Shalem once again it, this time, however, the two are able to confess their love for each other and find one another. They were the first tears of happiness in my lifefor I understood the pleasures of love (190). Upon spending their days and nights rejoicing their passion together, Dinah once more misplaces her voice, only this time it is not lost, but merely immersed in bliss. It was only that I could not find a voice for the flood of my happiness (192).
Once the topic of marriage arises, the offered bride price remains the same as in the biblical text and Jacob says that he must consent with his sons before excepting any offer. For the first time, in this particular instance, Jacob shows sentiment towards his daughter. He displays his anger upon hearing that she is no longer a girl (194).
Once Jacobs sons Simon and Levi return and hear of the offering, they once again are not concerned with their sisters happiness, but rather their own well-being, fearing that their own positions would be diminished by such an alliance (197). Being so blindsided by their arrogance, they twist their sisters heated romance into rape Revenge! My sister has been ravaged by an Egyptian dog (198). Reuben, one of the other brothers, speaks out against them confirming that both are in agreement to their relationship and that only idiots would mistakes a blessing for a curse (198).
Once Shalem and his father agree to be circumcised so that he and Dinah can marry and the tribe of Jacob grow not merely in generations to come, but even tomorrow they, along with all the men in the land, reside at home to heal (198). Upon one of the nights of rest Dinah is awoken my screams from a distance. Too soon did she realize that the tormented soul she pitied was not dreamed or even distantthe screams were her own (203). She wakes up to a pool of Shalms blood, rendered by the hand of her loathsome brothers Simon and Levi who also killed off every man within Schehem. This vicious exploit is no longer just pushed aside, as in Genesis, for the voice of Dinah highlights its brutality and cruelty, Nothing but death could stop my horror.or give me peace from the vision of Shalem, slashed, bleeding, dead in his startled sleep, and speaks out in defense not only for herself, but for all those inflicted by the impudence of her brothers and father (204). I wear the blood of the righteous men of Shechem. Their blood stains your hands and your head, and you will never be clean again (206).
Although we do not hear of Dinah in the Bible after The Rape of Dinah, we learn here that such an instance gives Dinah the strength and courage to form a new life in Egypt, a life in which she follows in the footsteps from her female mentors from the red tent, becoming a mother and wife, but most importantly, someone to keep the memories and tales alive.
Diamants magic enables a romance to flower from violence and the formulation of a voiceless cipher into an ingenious being transpire (1). She forces the reader see that in the eyes of trial and tragedy, happiness and love, we find reflections of ourselves no matter the age gap. She emphasizes that such a task could not happen if not for the scolding, teaching, cherishing, giving, and cursing one with different fears (2), that summon up the innumerable smiles, tears, sighs and dreams of human life (321). All this, Diament reminds all females, can be sequestered in the red tent.
*All in all I would say that this novel is definitely a good read. I found my self at times relating my own thoughts and experiences to that of the characters in the book. This is the very reason I would recommend that you give your class next semester the option of reading either this book or another. From my point of view, I think that most men can not relate to certain situations that occur, which lessens the overall significance of her writing.