Study Guide

The Red Tent Fear

By Anita Diamant


Jacob's fear was so great that it had erased all memory of his brother's love. (2.3.78)

Fear is a force that can make you forget everything that's positive. Jacob's fear of his brother Esau makes him forget that Esau really did love him.

My father's fear made Esau into a demon of revenge, whom I imagined red as a fox with arms like tree trunks. (2.3.79)

Fear can alter perceptions and dreams. Living in fear, in fact, is sort of like living in an alternate reality.

"You have no fear of childbirth?" asked my cousin. "What of pain? What if the baby dies?" (2.4.44)

Fear of childbirth and the pain that comes with it is at the forefront of women's minds back in the Bronze Age. Not only did they have to deal with the actual pain of giving birth, but there was also the very real chance that they could die. Now that's scary.

"Midwives do not fear life," I said […]. (2.4.45)

Ah, but Dinah doesn't say that midwives don't fear death. Anyway, Dinah is lucky to have been trained as a midwife, as this training sort of desensitizes her from the frightening event that is childbirth.

For that was the name of the young mother who huffed and leaned more in fear than pain. (2.7.19)

This brings up a question: what's worse, the fear of the child dying, or the fear of dying while giving birth? Or just the fear of pain itself? All of the above?

I imagined that someone would recognize the sin of my family upon my face and I would be torn apart on the spot. (3.2.23)

Dinah has to live a life in constant fear after the massacre of Shechem; though she might not be guilty, she still feels that she must be a target. Is it true? It's unclear. What is clear is that this fear completely transforms her life.

After years of fearing the street in Thebes, I rushed into this one, not entirely sure of where to go. (3.3.53)

For Dinah, one thing trumps her fear of going out in public: boredom. Or as we say today, FOMO (fear of missing out).

I looked into her eyes and managed a midwife's smile. I knew my task.

"Fear not," I whispered, "the time is coming.

"Fear not, your bones are strong." (3.5.22)

Here is part of the birthing song that Inna learned. The song itself is meant to pacify pain and help women give birth. Dinah sings it as Meryt dies, thereby easing her death. Fear of death makes us nervous and stressed out; this song's alleviation of fear helps us realize that we shouldn't fear everything just because it physically affects us.

"My sons trembled at my side. The tent stank with his illness and his ranting had frightened them, but I told them that their grandfather wished to bless them." (3.5.114)

Jacob is a scary old dude by the end of the book—we wouldn't touch him with a, 39-and-1/2-foot pole. Yeah, death is pretty scary when it looked like this.

The past had done its worst to me, and I had nothing to fear of the future. (3.5.165)

Given Dinah's past, she feels she really has little else to fear in the future. Can you blame her? Her husband was killed by her brothers, and she woke up covered in his blood, and then she had to basically lose her identity. Fear has become a part of her everyday life.