Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, is the narrator of The Red Tent. In her early years, Dinah is the playmate of her milk-brother Joseph, but as soon as the two are old enough for chores, Dinah is taken into the women’s circle and is bound by the rituals and customs of the red tent. Dinah tries to please her mother, Leah, but she is a clumsy girl. She seeks the comfort of her aunts and keeps her eyes open and her mouth closed so she can learn the ways of the women’s world. As she gets older, she craves entry into womanhood, and she accepts love when it comes her way through the Shechemite prince Shalem. Dinah proves the strength of her character when she curses all the men in her family for allowing her brothers Simon and Levi to murder the men in Shechem. After moving to Egypt, Dinah accepts the life that has come to her and tries to keep out of people’s way. She is grateful when she once again finds love and family in the Valley of the Kings.
Dinah’s birth mother, Leah is intelligent, practiced, and arrogant. She was shunned by others since her birth because she was born with one eye green, the other blue, but she is immediately attracted to Jacob, who maintains her gaze. Leah is tall, shapely, and strong, so Jacob does not turn her away when he realizes that the family has swapped Rachel for Leah under the bridal robes. Once in the bridal tent, Leah does not fear intimacy, and she learns the secrets of her body while with Jacob. But when the bridal week is over and she must share her husband with her spoiled little sister, Leah is jealous and busies herself with the care of Laban’s camp, steering clear of Rachel. Over the years, Leah remains Jacob’s confidante, and he consults her on matters of the home. She proudly bears him seven sons, and this earns her honor. But she rejoices in the birth of her daughter Dinah and teaches her the ways of women.
The favored wife of Jacob, Rachel is an uncontested beauty in Haran. Rachel’s mother, Huta, dies giving birth to her, and Laban’s first wife, Adah, gladly raises the child as her own. Rachel is a living wonder to all, and Dinah says that her aunt carries the smell of fresh, sweet water as perfume wherever she goes. But for all her beauty, Rachel is spoiled and jealous, and she demands attention from others around her. It seems that the gods do not shine on Rachel for her ways; for many years, she remains childless, suffering several miscarriages. Rachel visits the midwife Inna and tries every trick and drinks every potion to aid her conception, but she remains barren. Through her visits, Rachel learns Inna’s practice, and soon she assists Inna in deliveries and her name is well known in the lands surrounding Haran. Eventually, Rachel is rewarded and she gives birth to Joseph and later Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s sons.
The fourth wife of Jacob, Zilpah reluctantly attends Jacob’s bed while the other women are pregnant, nursing, and recovering. Zilpah is a lover of all that is feminine, and she praises the moon and the goddesses of nature. She has no time for the business of men, but she respects her duty when Leah prompts her to see to Jacob. He tries to make her find pleasure in their intimacy, but Zilpah will not be moved. When her time on the bricks in the red tent comes, Zilpah nearly...
(The entire section is 1380 words.)