Study Guide

The Red Tent Part One, Chapter One

By Anita Diamant

Part One, Chapter One

  • So, there's this girl named Rachel. She's all flustered because a guy who looks dirty and has no sandals just kissed her and told her he's going to marry her.
  • And we're off and running.
  • Rachel is one of four sisters—she's the pretty one, but she's also only fourteen and hasn't had her first period yet.
  • Rachel's innocence is important because she's not allowed to get married until seven months after her first time bleeding.
  • The guy who kissed Rachel is also her cousin; his name is Jacob, and he's been banished by his father. But don't worry—he's a good-looking dude with good manners.
  • Rachel's father, Laban, is a pretty surly man. But he can't just dismiss Jacob, because he's his nephew.
  • By the way, at this time, we realize that this book is told through the first person—the narrator is the daughter of Rachel's sister, Leah.
  • This story is also told in the past tense, meaning all of this has already happened.
  • We then learn about Leah. She's not as beautiful as Rachel, but she's tall and strong. Her eyes are also very powerful, and most people look away when they see them.
  • Jacob looks Leah straight in the eyes, though, so she's all like, Yep, he's gonna be the father of my children one day.
  • Huh, this is all happening so quickly.
  • But first, let's learn about the third sister, named Zilpah. She's a strange one who claims that she remembers being inside the womb. She likes talking about gods and goddesses, and she has massive insomnia.
  • Zilpah loves predicting the future, but she's usually wrong. She's right, however, about Leah's pomegranate predicting how many kids she'll have—there were eight seeds, meaning there will be eight children.
  • Zilpah and Leah were totally besties as children, too.
  • Last but not least is Bilhah, the orphan child whose mother ran off at about the age when Bilhah could understand what was going on.
  • Bilhah was a sad child and was left alone. She was tiny, dark, and didn't say much.
  • Bilhah's first memory of Jacob is when his first child was born. It was a boy, and he loved the boy to pieces.
  • Hmm, this Jacob guy sounds like he's pretty important.
  • Anyway, Jacob is pretty much the guest of honor at the household, and Leah is sort of in love with him already, so she prepares a grand feast.
  • Leah gets really nervous, though, and she burns the bread and ends up making religious sacrifices so that her meal will appease him.
  • Jacob loves the meal—but then he gets really sick and vomits all night.
  • Woo, gotta love first impressions.
  • It's okay, though: Jacob makes a full recovery and ends up being a huge help around the household. He is a great shepherd, and he can train dogs as handily as Cesar Millan.
  • Oh, and Laban is pretty happy to have a male around to help with the sheep herding. Laban wanted a boy all his life, but he only had girls.
  • By the way, Laban's a pretty bad dude, on top of the fact that he's surly. He used to grope his female children; then Adah, his wife, beat the snot out of him when she found out. Yep, that stopped his groping.
  • Eventually, Jacob becomes the overseer of Laban's domain, so he and Laban negotiate the marriage to Rachel. It takes them a while, because they can't agree on a contract.
  • Jacob and Laban ultimately conclude that Jacob will serve Laban for a year in return for Rachel. Laban also throws in Bilhah as a possible concubine, as Rachel would be the dowered wife.
  • Rachel is super pumped to get married, but she still hasn't bled yet. So, basically, she can't get married yet. And she throws hissy fits.
  • After about nine months, Rachel finally bleeds for the first time, so all of the females take her to "the red tent," where they sing songs and tell stories.
  • The red tent is a place where women share religious and female experiences.
  • So there we have it: Rachel now has to wait seven more months to marry Jacob.