The Red Tent by Diamant
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 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 Israel’s men. Shechem’s behavior is considered “an outrage in Israel…a thing not to be done”, and therefore, hinders Shechem’s...