Study Guide

Dinah in The Red Tent

By Anita Diamant


The Only Daughter

So she has seven brothers and four boy cousins—as a girl, she kind of stands out. Dinah is the only female born to Jacob, and for that reason, girl is absolutely positively spoiled. She gets all of the attention, and pretty much all of the love.

But you know what happens when someone gets the attention all to him- or herself? Yeah, that person totally turns into a spoiled brat: "For the first time in my life, I hate my mother. My face grew hot as tears came to my eyes, and I threw a whole day's spinning into the dirt" (2.1.15).

Leah merely made a comment about how Dinah wasn't too good at spinning, so this is a bit of an overreaction. Now, little kids do this all of the time, but Dinah is different. She is important, and she knows she is important. For example, when visiting her grandmother, Rebecca, Dinah thinks: "And I imagined myself her pet, her favorite. Why shouldn't I be, I thought. After all, I was the female heir of her favored son" (2.4.66).

Whoa, Nelly, hold up.

As you can see, Dinah has a streak of immaturity as a child. She feels entitled as the only daughter, and she places herself on a pedestal because of her situation. Hey, she is Dinah, only daughter of Jacob. Mess with her, and you mess with everyone.

All right, so enough bashing on the little girl—she was just a child, and we can't blame her for feeling so important. And let's be real: she really was that important. Did we mention she's the only daughter of Jacob? Yeah, thought we'd just say it again.

The Tragic Teenager

When you think of tragic women in literature, you might think of Antigone or Cleopatra, or Juliet or Dido, but Dinah is right up there. For starters, here's a woman who wakes up one morning covered in the blood of her dead husband, and her brothers are the ones who killed him. Then she has to leave her homeland and pretend to be someone else for most of the rest of her life.

Yeah, that's tough.

But before she was tragic, Dinah was just a normal girl going through puberty. And she was doing a pretty good job of it, too: "For a moment, I weighed the idea of keeping my secret and remaining a girl, but the thought passed quickly. I could only be what I was. And I was a woman." (2.6.18).

Dinah knows that bleeding for the first time is a huge deal, and in her culture, it's the sign that she's no longer a child. So what does she do? She owns it. She marches right up to her mom and says, Hey, I'm a woman. No more spoiled brat here: "I lay there alone, counting my hatred. I hated my father for asking such a terrible price. I hated my husband and his father for agreeing to pay it" (2.7.149).

Uh, okay, so she's still a little bratty. But come on—anyone would have these thoughts if they were in her situation. Dinah pretty much has to deal with her husband's people—well, all of the men, at least—hating her because she's the reason they all have to go through painful circumcisions. So yeah, let's give her a break.

But then no good terrible bad things happen, like the murder of her husband by her brothers, and Dinah becomes a full-fledged tragic character. Don't believe us? Take it from her: "All the way back up the hillside to the tents of Jacob I screamed in silence. Oh gods. Oh heaven. Oh mother. Why do I still live?" (2.7.160).

Dinah asks: Why her? Why is she alive if this happened to her? It's one thing to be left by your lover then kill yourself (ahem, Dido) or to think your lover is dead then kill yourself (ahem, Juliet), but it's another thing to wake up next to your dead lover covered in his blood and then carry on for the rest of your life.

We'll leave you with this optimistic note from our gal: "I was alone and empty. I was a grave looking to be filled with the peace of death" (2.8.18).

Er, never mind. Let's just say that Dinah's teenage years weren't exactly the greatest.

The Wise Midwife

Thankfully, Dinah's life takes a nice little turn when she moves to Egypt. The aren't great years, but Dinah's at least fortunate enough to live with two very generous and loving families. In Egypt, she meets her best friend and midwife buddy Meryt, and Dinah herself became a famous midwife.

At this point, Dinah's wise, hardened, and fantastic at delivering babies. But she could also be seen as an oracle herself. Just check out what Meryt had to say about her: "Her dreams are powerful, and her anger is to be feared, for I have seen her blast an evil man out of the prime of his life for harming a young mother" (3.3.45).

Yeah, ever since her husband was murdered, Dinah's been pretty spiteful—and pretty spot on with her curses. Some see her as an evil witch, but we know she's not evil. Though she very well could have been a witch, or at least one of those wise old women with a troubled past.


We know what you're thinking. "Hey, Shmoop," you say. "This Dinah character is completely different in the Bible. Most of her story is the same, but it seems like she has a different side to the whole Shechem murder thing. What's up with that?"

We've got you covered. So, yeah, in Genesis, Dinah doesn't fall in love with Shalem. In fact, she's raped by him when she visits the city (34:1-2). Then, Shalem pretends to be in love with her, and that's how his marriage proposal arises. Not exactly what we see in The Red Tent.

Anyway, in Genesis, Dinah's brothers basically "save" her by murdering the men of Shechem, and they bring her back to camp where they protect her. She ends up making a few more friends, but the gist of it is that the sons of Jacob were seeking revenge for Dinah's rape.

So as you can see, the two stories are quite different: in one corner (Genesis), Dinah is raped and saved by her brothers, but in the other (The Red Tent), Dinah falls in love, then her brothers brutally kill her husband and his people as revenge for, well, just not liking Shalem's father.

What's Diamant up to here? There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but we'll give it a gander. We think that Diamant isn't necessarily trying to tell the "true" story; she's just trying to tell a different possible version of what happened. Genesis was written by and about men, for the most part; Diamant offers us a different perspective, from a woman's point of view. Like all history—and all stories—what actually happened, for real, is a mystery. It all depends on how you tell it.