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Literature / The Red Tent

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The Red Tent is a novel written by Anita Diamant, which expands on the story of Dinah in the Book of Genesis. The original Bible story is about a young girl who was raped by a prince, and her brothers killed every man in the prince's city-state for it. Diamant's novel expands on the story, and tells it from Dinah's perspective. Her encounter with the prince, for example, is not a rape in Diamant's novel; it was loving and consensual. The story narrates Dinah's life, such as spending time with the women of her family in a red tent designated for their "time of the month."

In 2014, it was made into a 2-episode miniseries airing on Lifetime, starring Rebecca Ferguson as Dinah.

Tropes associated with The Red Tent include:

  • Abandon the Disabled: Babies born with disabilities and defects are left to die. Leah was almost killed upon birth for having heterochromic eyes, under the belief that she was cursed, but her mother wouldn't allow it.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Jacob starts off as a genuinely nice, caring person, but as he gains more and more wealth and status, it kind of goes to his head.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Shalem actually waits until marriage in the miniseries in order to have sex with Dinah.
    • Downplayed with Jacob. He is more hands-on in the miniseries.
    • In the original Biblical text, the prince (who was unnamed) was a rapist who decided after the fact that he loved Dinah and wanted to marry her. In the book (and the mini-series), he is a kind and handsome young man who falls in Love at First Sight with her (and she with him), and engages in loving, consensual sex with her. The reason his village is destroyed in the original is a case of Rape and Revenge; in the novel, it's because Dinah's greedy older brothers were worried about what would happen to their wealth and power if she married a prince. (It also didn't help that the prince did not ask her father for permission to marry her before they had sex.)
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Rebecca in the book is mainly described as "arrogant". In the miniseries, she is shown chastising Werenro.
    • Re-Nefer is more exploitative of Dinah in the miniseries.
    • In the original Biblical text, Laban was kind of a jerk in his second appearance: he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah when he was supposed to marry Rachel, and forced him to work another seven years to pay for Leah's virginity (after he'd already worked seven years as a bride price for Rachel). But in TRT, Laban is an Alcoholic Parent, Domestic Abuser, The Gambling Addict, as well as the swindler he was in The Bible.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The purpose of the Ritual of Opening is to break the girl's hymen, in order to offer the resultant blood to Inanna, and "open her up" as preparation for marriage. The hymen doesn't quite work that way, but to be fair, this is the Bronze Age.
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  • Babies Make Everything Better: Played with. Rachel believes this, in her bitter sadness over being unable to have children of her own - and she's proven correct when she finally bears Joseph, who immediately becomes Jacob's favourite child. Averted for Leah however; she quickly realizes that no matter how many children she bears Jacob, he will never love her as much as he loves Rachel.
  • Belly Dancer: When Dinah comes of age, the women celebrate in the Red Tent. In particular, Ahavah (one of her sisters-in-law) is described as dancing with her pregnant belly.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Laban has a habit of "bothering the sheep."
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: After the destruction of the Shechemites, Jacob's family becomes this. Not that it was much better before.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Re-Nefer seems nice at first, and actively encourages Shalem and Dinah's romance. After Dinah's brothers massacre the men of Shechem, she nonetheless still seems to care for Dinah when she flees with her to Egypt. Turns out that she actually despises Dinah utterly, blames her for the deaths of her husband and son, and only really cared about the fact that Dinah was pregnant with Shalem's baby. As soon as Dinah births a son, Re-Nefer snatches him away from her and outright enslaves her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Since Dinah was the only surviving female child, and ran away to Egypt, all of the private women's traditions of her tribe die with Jacob's wives - but nonetheless, the memory of Dinah herself lives on through her brothers' daughters. Eventually, she dies peacefully in her old age, surrounded and mourned by her new family, although what's left of her old family barely acknowledges that she ever existed.
  • Bowdlerise: The Mini Series glossed over a lot of things, including the Ritual of Opening.
  • Rebecca's reason for being so emotionally distant and surrounding herself by white-clad veiled servants all named "Deborah" is the loss of her nursemaid, Deborah.
  • One possible explanation for Zilpah's intense dislike of men is that her father molested her, and she saw how local men in the area ogled her and her sisters and jeered at Leah for her mismatched eyes.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Dinah takes on an Egyptianized version of her name, Den-ner, when she becomes a respected midwife there.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Dinah completely snaps and lashes out at Jacob for letting his sons get away with the slaughter of her husband and the men of Shechem, going so far as to curse them all before running away.
  • Canon Immigrant: Tabea isn't a Biblical character, but does live alongside them.
  • Character Development: Rachel starts off as a real diva, but as she finds her purpose (midwifery), she becomes more mature.
  • Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Played straight in the miniseries, but very, very much averted in the novel, which describes most births in very raw and realistic detail.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Rachel, mainly out of resentment towards Leah for manipulating her into switching places on their wedding day, thus taking the great honor of being Jacob's first wife.
  • Closer to Earth: The women feel an intense connection with their homeland and goddesses, so much that they are distraught when Jacob packs them all up and moves to a new land - hence why they steal Laban's teraphim, in order to keep their goddesses close.
  • Coming of Age: A girl becomes a woman when she has her first menstrual period, an event that is greatly celebrated by the women of the tribe.
  • Covert Pervert:
    • Dinah takes interest in listening to her older brother and his wife at night.
    • Also, her otherwise very respectable mother Leah makes lots of dirty jokes in the company of the other women in the Red Tent.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Zilpah spies on Jacob doing this in the field, shortly before his planned wedding to Rachel - she informs Rachel that he has very ample equipment, terrifying her so much that she backs out of the wedding and has Leah take her place.
  • Death by Childbirth: Many cases of this are mentioned in passing. Rachel eventually suffers this fate herself, just as she did in the biblical narrative.
  • Defiled Forever: As evidenced by her brothers' nasty name-calling, Dinah is regarded as this in their eyes for her sexual relationship with Prince Shalem.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • The slaughter of Prince Shalem for Dinah.
    • Also, the destruction of the Teraphim by Jacob becomes this for Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah, who all die not long thereafter. Especially Zilpah, who was literally Driven to Madness by it.
  • Does Not Like Men: Zilpah. She is very reluctant to sleep with Jacob, and does so only on Leah's orders. After giving birth to twin sons nearly kills her, she and Jacob agree to never have sex again, for which she is extremely grateful.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Laban treats Ruti so horribly that she has an abortion so that she won't give him another child
    • Also, Bilhah is severely beaten by Jacob after he caught her sleeping with Reuben.
  • Downer Ending: For all of Jacob's wives. Zilpah goes insane and dies of a fever shortly after the destruction of their teraphim. Leah wakes up paralyzed one day, and begs her sons' wives to kill her with poison. Rachel dies an agonizing death after giving birth to her second son, and Jacob simply leaves her body to rot at the side of a road. Bilhah is caught sleeping with Reuben, is severely beaten in punishment before being banished, and heavily implied to have committed suicide.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Zilpah tries to invoke this many times, interpreting dreams to predict the future. Her predictions are seldom accurate, though.
  • Driven to Madness:
    • This happens to Zilpah when Jacob destroys the Teraphim. She becomes physically ill as well, and dies as a result.
    • This is also how Jacob's vision of the angels on the stairs (and famed fight with an angel) is viewed by the other characters in Diamant's novel.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Ruti slits her wrists after years of suffering under Laban. Also one of Simon's sons when he learns that his father won his mother by murdering every man in Shechem.
    • Bilhah is also heavily implied to have committed suicide after her banishment.
    • And Bar-Shalem/Re-Mose, when he learns that his life thus far has been Based on a Great Big Lie.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Adah is jealous of, and abusive toward, Basemath, who is more favored by Esau but considerably less fertile than Adah, and his wives and his mother don't really get along.
  • Excrement Statement: When he discovers the last of the household idols he thought he'd destroyed, Jacob becomes angry, blaming it for all the misfortunes he's suffered since leaving Padan-Aram for Canaan. After he smashes it with a rock, he urinates on it.
  • Fair Folk: This is what Zilpah hopes she's carrying: a daughter (perhaps some kind of demi-goddess) who will come out fully-formed and magical. She ends up having twin boys instead, and it almost kills her.
  • First Period Panic: During the Time Skip, Dinah's cousin Tabea got her first period, but rather than it being celebrated or her even being told what was happening to her (as it would be in Dinah's immediate family), Tabea was simply shut into a dark hut, not allowed to leave until she stopped bleeding, and told she was "impure". (She does, however, get to wear a belt or apron that marks her as an adult woman instead of a little girl.) When Rebekah finds out about this, she is enraged, and sends Tabea away, along with her aunt, never to be seen again. Dinah is upset that this happened to her Only Friend, but Leah defends Rebekah, saying that it was a Necessary Evil to protect their customs.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Meta. In a very subtle way. Leah wears sky blue. She is Judah's mother. Mary (and Joseph, and thus Jesus) is from the tribe of Judah. Mary is usually depicted wearing sky blue. A very subtle way to foreshadow which of Jacob's wives would be the ancestor of who is probably the most famous Jewish person ever.
    • Also, in the miniseries, Dinah meets Judah's family. It is the only family of her brothers' that she meets, other than Joseph's. More subtle meta foreshadowing.
  • Gag Penis: Zilpah tells Rachel that Jacob has one of these, to make her afraid to go to the marriage bed so Leah can go instead.
  • Generation Xerox: After Bilhah is flogged for sleeping with Reuben, she runs away (and is thought to have committed suicide), just like her own Missing Mom.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion:
    • Averted. Ruti induces a miscarriage so as not to give her husband another child (that he'll probably just abuse) and the other women understand her choice.
    • Leah initially considers doing the same thing when she conceives Dinah, because at this point she is approaching middle age, and giving birth seven times already has taken a toll on her body. She decides not to when Zilpah informs her that her baby is the daughter that the women have desperately wanted for so long.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: In spades. Despite the fact that he favours Rachel, Jacob apparently has a much more satisfying sexual relationship with Leah. Zilpah only sleeps with him once, and only because Leah obligates her to, but she still finds the experience not entirely unpleasant. Dinah recalls the first time she and Shalem make love very fondly, and later enjoys a very healthy sex life with Benia.
  • Hartman Hips: Leah is described as possessing especially wide hips, which explains she is able to survive giving birth to eight children.
  • Heir Club for Men: Laban's unhappy that he only had daughters through Adah and a couple of concubines. He does finally get sons, though through Ruti.
  • Hollywood Homely: Leah (described in the Bible as being rather plain compared to Rachel) is considered this because one of her eyes is green and one is blue, something she feels very self-conscious about. Only because people used to tease her about it, and she only displays signs of self-consciousness around men. invoked Also, years of bearing children and nursing take a toll on her.
  • I Have No Son!:
    • Jacob disowns Reuben for having sex with Bilhah, just as he did in the biblical narrative. He also does the same to Dinah - after the whole business with the Shechemites and her running away, he never spoke her name again and acted as though she had never existed.
    • Rebecca not only kicks her daughter-in-law out for not performing the Ritual of Opening for Tabea, but sends Tabea off with her, even though it wasn't Tabea's fault.
  • Karma Houdini: Dinah's brothers. They get a What the Hell, Hero?, and in The Bible get their inheritance divided, but that's barely a slap on the wrist for destroying a whole village simply because they were worried for their status when their sister got involved with a prince.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility:
    • Played With; Leah bears many children very easily, but Rachel does not, despite trying every trick Inna has up her sleeves. Rachel actually becomes pregnant just as easily as Leah, but is simply unable carry any of her pregnancies to term. She suffers a large number of miscarriages over many years, before her luck finally turns and she gives birth to Joseph.
    • This also happens to Dinah many years later. She is a middle aged woman by the time she marries Benia, and though they try very hard to have children together, it never happens.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: Was adapted in 2014 into a two-part Mini Series on Lifetime.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Zilpah views sex with Jacob as this. She only sleeps with him because Leah asked (or ordered) her to, and then only for procreative purposes. She did not enjoy a moment of it, and makes it clear that she does not want to regale her sisters with the story of it.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: Laban gambles away Ruti. Leah and Jacob work together to rescue her, though.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Dinah's son is taken away from her by her mother-in-law. She is barred from having nearly any involvement whatsover in his upbringing. When she briefly meets him again as an adult, they are complete strangers, and he doesn't immediately recognize her as his mother.
  • Lunacy: The women who are of childbearing age all menstruate like clockwork around the New Moon and ovulate with the full moon. In Real Life, periods usually do not synch up that much.
  • Made a Slave: Dinah functions as Re-Mose's nursemaid, but is not allowed to play the role of his mother (even though she actually is). Played up in the miniseries.
  • Mad Oracle: Zilpah, sort of. Most see her as very eccentric, and she is obsessed with mysticism and divination. Most of her predictions don't really seem to come true, though.
  • Marry Them All: Jacob ends up married to both Leah and Rachel, and later takes Bilhah and Zilpah as concubines. Though here, the sisters actually pulled the strings to help engineer this arrangement so they could all stay together.
  • Mercy Killing: How Leah eventually dies: she wakes up paralyzed one morning, and begs her servant girls to kill her with poison. They oblige.
  • Mismatched Eyes: Leah has these. Based on a potential interpretation of the Biblical narrative, in which she is described as having "tender eyes" - the exact meaning of said description has been fiercely debated.
  • Motherhood Is Superior: Leah and her sisters dote on Dinah. They don't pay much attention to the boys after they finish nursing, since they go off to tend the herds with their father. Except for Bilhah, who has an affair with Reuben once he grows up. Likewise, Jacob pays more attention to his sons than he does to his daughter, again on the grounds that men and women operate in different spheres of their semi-nomadic society.
  • Mr. Fanservice: In-Universe and Invoked. Benia in the miniseries shows off his toned body on purpose while working on Dinah's roof in order to get her to fall for him. It worked. Afterwards, he dresses much more modestly when working- just as he did before meeting Dinah.
  • The Murder After: Subverted, as Dinah is not the suspect; she at first doesn't know who killed Shalem, but it's revealed that it was her brothers.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Jacob, although (in all fairness) he did not directly orchestrate the events surrounding the destruction of the Shechemites. He only requested an outrageous bride price, after his favorite son Joseph suggested having the men circumcised when Simon complained about how "that uncircumcised dog" was lying with Dinah. The rest was all his sons' doing, which he does call them out for.
  • Naughty by Night: The women act differently in the privacy of the Red Tent than they otherwise do. They are more outgoing, and they serve the goddesses of their homeland (rather than the God of Jacob)
  • No Periods, Period: Averted; menstruation brings the women into the red tent, and brings them together. They regard it as a gift from the goddess Innana, that allows "periodic" renewal.
  • Not Wanting Kids Is Weird: Tabea mentions that she wants to be a priestess, rather than to be sold into marriage and used as a Baby Factory or risk Death by Childbirth. This is because Tabea has seen a lot of the adult drama in her family, and witnessed Oholibamah suffer in childbirth for days before dying a horrible death. (But the only option open to her besides marriage and motherhood is becoming a priestess.) Because although her family is not without its problems, it is (at least at this point) much more stable than Tabea's, Dinah can't fathom why she (or anyone else) would want to pass up motherhood (which is placed on a very high pedestal in their culture, and especially among the women of Dinah's family.)
  • Parental Abandonment: Bilhah's biological mother ran away from Laban, leaving Bilhah behind.
  • Parental Incest: Laban molested his daughters, but stopped after his wife punished him severely for it.
  • Parents as People: Jacob focuses more on his 12 sons than on his daughter, and Leah sometimes loses her patience with Dinah.
  • Pet the Dog: Rebecca, as vain and mean as she is, receives all visitors, no matter their age, race, sex, social class, etc. Also, she holds a little boy and rubs a soothing ointment onto his wounds.
  • Poisonous Friend: Jacob becomes corrupt and greedy after he starts listening to Simon and Levi instead of Leah and Reuben.
  • Polyamory:
    • Just as in the Canon Bible story, but this time portrayed as orchestrated by the girls themselves (not Laban tricking Jacob into marrying Leah). Also, Jacob actually does love and care for his wives (well, in the beginning anyway), although Rachel is still his favorite.
    • Also, just as in canon, Esau has 3 wives (though one suffered Death by Childbirth). Like Jacob, he has a favorite wife, the beautiful but (allegedly) infertile Basemath. His first wife, Adah, is jealous of Basemath and abuses her. Additionally, Esau is expecting a child with one of his slave girls, and she will become a lesser wife if her child happens to be a boy.
  • Pregnant Badass: Dinah, by this time a seasoned midwife, has the presence of mind to perform an episiotomy on herself as she struggles through a difficult birth.
  • Rape as Drama: Werenro is gang-raped and mutilated, and found later by a young shepherd boy.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Considering that the girl undergoing the ritual is masturbated with a small idol...
  • Sexless Marriage: Zilpah and Jacob, after she very nearly dies giving birth to Gad and Asher and does not want to go through that again. For his part, Jacob is understanding about that, and never summons her for sex again.
  • Shown Their Work: A lot of research on Ancient Mesopotamia went into this particular novel.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: When Dinah sees Tabea again after the Time Skip, she is wearing a belt or apron of some kind that signifies that she's had her first period (and therefore considered an adult). Rebecca is angry when she sees her wearing it, because she was not informed, and because she then finds out that rather than doing the Ritual of Opening, Tabea was treated according to the customs of her mother and aunts, rather than Rebecca and her ancestors. (Namely, being shut away from the family group in a dark tent or hut, with no explanation as to what was happening to her, and told that she is "impure" and cannot rejoin the group until she stops bleeding. It was treated as a negative experience, rather than something to be celebrated or even acknowledged.) Rebecca disowns Tabea for not following family traditions, even though it was clearly not her fault.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Subverted. Dinah is left pregnant with Shalem's son, but is forbidden by Shalem's grieving mother to even acknowledge the child as his. Then once the baby born, she completely steals him away from Dinah, who ends up playing very little part in his upbringing.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: They believe it's a gift to womankind from one of the old goddesses.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Toned down somewhat from the Biblical narrative, but there is still a great deal of this between Leah and Rachel, each desiring what the other has. Leah has a large brood of children, but wishes for the love that Jacob lavishes upon Rachel. Rachel has Jacob's love, but desperately wants to give him children as Leah has done.
  • The Old Gods: Although they worship (or pretend to worship) Jacob's God in public, in private, his wives worship the goddesses of their homeland. They view their husband's God as unnecessarily harsh, and his customs of burning the choicest parts of a sacrificed animal and circumcision as strange. Meanwhile, the women of Canaan, particularly Simeon and Levi's wives Ialutu and Inbu, take a dim view of the rituals of the Red Tent, such as sacrifices to Inanna and the Ritual of Opening, and more readily accept Jacob's customs.
  • This Is My Story: The story begins thusly: "We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust" and continues in this vein for some time.
  • The Unfair Sex: Most men in the story (with a couple of exceptions, such as Prince Shalem and Benia) are portrayed as selfish, arrogant, greedy, power-hungry jerks.
  • The Unfavorite: Just as in Canon, Leah, although it is clear that she is still loved and cared for, and Jacob is still attracted to her, just not on the same level as Rachel. All of Jacob's elder sons eventually become this as well, after Rachel bears Joseph.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Although not directly involved with Shalem's murder, Jacob indirectly sets it into motion by misinterpreting a sarcastic remark from Joseph.
    • Re-Nefer encouraged Shalem's crush on Dinah, as she believed the girl would make him happy. It really backfired on her family.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • The women of Padan-Aram, who do the Ritual of Opening and celebrate the New Moon together, contrasted to the women of Canaan, who "prove" their virginity to their in-laws with the bloody sheets of the wedding night and are not familiar with the New Moon rituals. invoked
    • Isaac being monogamous and having (and wanting) only one wife is seen as the exception, not the rule. Not condemned- just not the norm.
  • Virgin Power: Early in the book, it's mentioned that Rachel's first menstrual blood is collected to fertilize the garden, with the belief that menstrual blood from a virgin makes crops grow bigger and stronger. note 
  • Wedding-Enhanced Fertility: As per tradition, the bride and groom spend a week secluded in a tent after their wedding. Leah and Rachel both immediately become pregnant after they are married to Jacob - Leah gives birth to Jacob's firstborn son later that year, but Rachel sadly miscarries.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Tabea's never seen again after her aunt carts her off kicking and screaming.
  • Women's Mysteries: The women of Jacob's tribe have their own exclusive secret world, with its own customs and religious beliefs.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Inna, despite her best efforts, lost a (very young) woman and her child during delivery, and the girl's husband accused Inna of being an evil witch and threatened to take Inna to the village elders, the leader of whom has a beef with her for turning down his son as a suitor. So she decides to join up with her apprentice Rachel instead and live as part of Jacob's tribe.
  • Younger Mentor, Older Disciple: Meryt states many times that, despite being significantly older than Dinah and having more practical experience, she considers herself Dinah's apprentice in the arts of midwifery, owing to the latter's more advanced skills.


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