Study Guide

The Red Tent Summary

By Anita Diamant

The Red Tent Summary

In the beginning was the Word.

Wait, that's the Bible. Our bad. But hey, check out our guide to the Bible if you're into that. It's Shmooperific. And it'll help you get a handle on The Red Tent.

Anyway, The Red Tent is all about a little lady called Dinah. She's the daughter of Leah, a daughter of Laban. The book begins with a man named Jacob coming to Laban, claiming he's his nephew, and saying that he wants to marry Laban's daughter, Rachel.

So Jacob barges into the family and starts working for Laban, Jacob is a great guy, and he's a very skilled worker, too. Eventually, he becomes the overseer of the household, and he's granted Rachel's hand in marriage once she's old enough to bear children.

The story pretty much revolves around the women. Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah are all daughters of Laban, and the red tent is where they have their periods and share stories. Now, we're in the Bronze Age here, folks. All those modern luxuries women have today, like tampons and pads and all of that, didn't exist, so having your period back then was a pretty big deal. The red tent helps the women in this novel treat the process with care and relief, as they're all bleeding at once.

Rachel isn't old enough to bleed when Jacob first arrives, but eventually she does. and she's super excited to get married and get it on.

But Zilpah, who has a bit of a grudge against Rachel, tells her all about how sex is totally painful. So Rachel gets cold feet and asks Leah to marry Jacob instead. Leah secretly loves Jacob, so she complies she marries Jacob without Laban's knowledge.

Jacob eventually gets Leah pregnant, and then he moves on to get Rachel pregnant, too. But Rachel miscarries, and she miscarries many more times after that. Because of all of her failed attempts at giving birth, Rachel becomes the apprentice of a midwife, and she becomes very skilled herself. But don't worry: Jacob will ultimately become the father to children born of all of Laban's daughters, even Rachel.

The last of Leah's children is a girl named Dinah, and she's our narrator. Right after Dinah is born, Rachel has her first son, Joseph. From here on out, Dinah is the focus of our story.

Dinah talks about her life with her brothers: she hates Simon and Levi, but she loves Joseph, Judah, and Reuben. There are plenty of other brothers, but they're sort of irrelevant to the story. Dinah is treated like a queen by her mothers (Dinah totally has four mommies, as Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah also serve as mothers to her), especially given the fact she's the only female child in the family. They even let her sit in the red tent with them, despite her age.

One day, Laban leaves town and gambles away his new wife and a few of Jacob's dogs—and that's the last straw for Jacob. He decides that the family needs to leave town and find a new place to live. Before they leave, though, Rachel steals Laban's household gods (teraphims) to curse the old man for being a terrible father and person.

On the way to find a new home, the family crosses a few rivers, and Jacob even gets beaten up pretty badly at one point. He thinks the people were sent by his brother, Esau, because Esau has been holding a grudge on Jacob for many years.

One day, Laban shows up to yell at everyone for stealing his household gods. Rachel tells him she stole them. She also tells him that the women soiled them with their blood. That shuts Laban up, and he leaves. No one sees him again.

The family of Jacob finally reaches Esau, and though Jacob thinks Esau is going to kill him and his family, Esau is extremely sincere and nice to his brother. The brothers hug and make up, and the two families enjoy a great feast. At the feast, Dinah meets her cousin, Tabea, and they become instant friends.

The next day, Jacob's family has to leave. They dwell in a place called Succoth for two years. But one day, a messenger from a place called Mamre shows up with a message from Rebecca, Jacob's mother. They are summoned to a barley festival, so the family packs up and headed to Grandma's house.

When they arrived at Rebecca's tent, Dinah is surprised to discover that Rebecca is extremely rude and cruel. She's known as an oracle, but she treats her grandchildren like dirt, and she's very mean to her husband. She even casts Tabea out for not being given the proper ceremony during her first period—which upsets Dinah. Tabea and Dinah never meet again.

Finally, when it's time to leave Rebecca's tent, Dinah is summoned to stay for three more months. These are a grueling three months for Dinah, but during these months, she does realize that Rebecca has a soft place in her heart, as she helps random pilgrims with their misfortunes every morning.

When Dinah returns to her family, she has her first period, and her mothers all make a huge deal of it. They make a blood sacrifice to the gods; Jacob finds out and is very disturbed. But it's okay, because Dinah gets to hang out with Rachel more and learn the skills of being a midwife.

The family then moves to Shechem, where Dinah meets her beloved in the city. Her beloved, Shalem, is a Shechem prince, so the king, Hamor, asks Jacob for a bride-price. Jacob is rude to Hamor because he's heard bad things about him from Simon and Levi. These are the two mean-spirited children of Jacob, who have always treated Dinah with disrespect. After a big dispute, Jacob agrees to marry Dinah off to Shalem under one condition: all of the Shechem men need to be circumcised.

Yep. You heard us. All of the men need to be circumcised so that one woman can marry one man.

And that's what they do: the men get circumcised, and Dinah marries Shalem. They're totally in love and make love every day.

But then Dinah wakes up one day screaming: Shalem was killed in his sleep by Simon and Levi. Apparently, Simon and Levi were very much against the people of Shechem, who they view as crooks and savages. But Simon and Levi have been Dinah's most hated brothers from the start, so it's not surprising that they would do something so evil.

Oh, and Simon and Levi killed everyone else in the Shechem palace, except for the queen, Re-nefer.

Dinah goes berserk, and Simon and Levi take her back to Jacob's camp. Dinah is absolutely distraught (who can blame her), and she runs back to Shechem with the intention of killing herself.

Luckily, she is found by Re-nefer's guard, and she's put into their care. Re-nefer is also distraught, but she blames herself for the murders because she was the one who wanted Shalem and Dinah to get married. She hatches a plan to take Dinah to Egypt with her to live with her brother, Nakht-re.

So that's what they do: they go to Egypt to live with Nakht-re. There, Dinah has a child (she was impregnated while with Shalem), but he's born as an Egyptian prince. Re-nefer technically gets to have the child as her own, so she names him Re-mose, despite Dinah's wishes to name him Bar-Shalem.

But it's okay, because they eventually tell Re-mose that Dinah is his mother. He brings Dinah tons of joy, but when he gets older, he's sent off to school, and Dinah becomes lonely again. Dinah then starts hanging out with an Egyptian midwife named Meryt. They're besties for life from then on, and they become famous for being great midwives together.

When Nakht-re and Re-nefer die, Dinah is forced to move in with Meryt and her family. Meanwhile, Re-mose becomes a pretty successful scribe and travels the country with his teachers.

When Dinah arrives at Meryt's son's house, she is welcomed, but she soon gets bored. It seems like she's going to be pretty bored for the rest of her life, until a man named Benia shows up. While living with Re-nefer and Nakht-re, Dinah encounters Benia at the marketplace. He's a carpenter, and they are pretty awestruck when they first see each other. But Dinah never reaches out to him when she goes back because she doesn't want to fall in love again.

Yeah, well, Benia follows Dinah to Meryt's house (Meryt helped him find Dinah), and they fall in love. Dinah then gets to move in with Benia, and they have a very happy marriage.

But then more stuff happens, so keep bearing with us.

Re-mose shows up one day with a request for Dinah: he needs her to help deliver a child for his master, Zafenat Paneh-ah. She reluctantly follows, but she helps the master and his wife deliver the child.

While she's there, she learns a lot about Zafenat Paneh-ah. A servant of his tells Dinah his life story, and she realizes that she knows him. He's Joseph, the brother she loved the most as a child.

Re-mose confronts Zafenat Paneh-ah about why the midwife who delivered his baby muttered "Joseph" when told about him, and Joseph reveals the whole shebang. He tells about how his brothers killed his sister's husband and the people of Shechem, and how he is indeed a man named Joseph. But he thinks Dinah was dead, and doesn't expect anything until Re-mose tells him that Dinah was the midwife who delivered his child.

Re-mose then threatens to kill Joseph, and Joseph places in him jail. So Dinah has to talk Joseph into letting Re-mose go. Dinah then tells her son the whole entire story of her life and how she couldn't tell him so that he could be safe from being shamed. Joseph gives Re-mose a place to live in the north by the water, and Dinah has to leave her son.

Back in her home with Benia, Dinah feels relieved to finally be back and safe. But years later, Joseph shows up with news about their father, Jacob. He's dying. Joseph needs Dinah to accompany him to see Jacob. Dinah reluctantly agrees.

They end up going to Jacob's camp. Joseph says goodbye, and Dinah sees her other brothers. They recognize her, even though she doesn't realize they do. Judah, another brother she liked as a child, gives her a necklace that belonged to Rachel—it was a gift from Leah.

Afterward, Joseph and Dinah go their separate ways. The years fly by, and Dinah dies.

Apparently she's telling this story as a ghost. OooOoooOoooh.

The end.