Study Guide

Jacob in The Red Tent

By Anita Diamant


Father of Thirteen

Okay, so a guy shows up to his uncle's camp in rags and declares he's going to marry one of his uncle's daughters. This doesn't seem promising.

Yet, Jacob does just this, and more—he marries all of his uncle's daughters. Then, he works his way into having a great deal of money and becomes pretty famous throughout the land. So when Laban treats him like a slave, Jacob responds like this:

"I am the reason for your comfortable old age," Jacob said. "I have been an honest servant. I took nothing that was not mine. I have nothing here except that which you agreed was mine, and it was not fair payment for what I have given you." (2.3.55)

Though he doesn't have a very promising beginning, Jacob is actually a pretty swell dude. He's honest, and he really is the reason why Laban has a comfortable living in his old age.

Oh, and Jacob has a sum total of thirteen children. This guy knows how to talk to the ladies: "Jacob was a weaver of words, and he would catch his eager audience in the threads of his tale" (1.3.59).

Okay, so he can talk women into having sex with him, and he's a great storyteller, but is he really a good guy? Well, let's see what one wife has to say: "Jacob was kind," Bilhah remembered. "He thought my tears were a sign of fear, so he held me like a child and gave me a wooden bracelet" (1.3.10). Okay, so he's a nice guy, too.

In the beginning of the book, Jacob truly seems like an everyman. He's kind, gentle, skilled, loving—he pretty much has no faults. But then his sons go on a massacre rampage in Shechem, and ever since then, he's become a not-so-everyman.

For example, let's take a look at how Jacob reacts to the love affair between Bilhah and Reuben: "When Jacob came upon them, he disinherited the most deserving of his sons and sent him to a distant pasture, where he could not protect Joseph. Jacob struck Bilhah across the face, breaking her teeth" (2.8.24).

So Jacob pretty much turns into the opposite of what he was in the beginning of the book. After the massacre of Shechem, he's cruel and unforgiving. He even treats his most beloved wife, Rachel, with disrespect: "Jacob's fear chased him away from Rachel's poor drained body, which he buried hastily and without ceremony at the side of the road, with nothing but a few pebbles to remember the great love of his life" (2.8.22).

At this point, Jacob's a good guy turned bad guy. And though we can't blame him alone for Dinah's misfortune, we also can't give him a get-out-of-jail-free card. After all, it's Jacob who demands that the Shechem men be circumcised as a bride-price for Dinah, which is what sets all the nastiness in motion.

So that's how we'll remember Jacob—as a loving husband and father who unfortunately turns into a cowardly patriarch.