In Diamant’s 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 than 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 goddess—but 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, Dinah’s sensuality begins to blossom and she is able to conceive the notion of true love.
It is at this point in the story, Diamant’s 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 dau...
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...otsteps from her female mentors from the red tent, becoming a mother and wife, but most importantly, someone to keep the memories and tales alive.
Diamant’s 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.
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