Analysis

Dinah relates the memories of her childhood through the lens of her mothers’ experiences and stories. Growing up with no girls her age to play with, Dinah relies entirely on her mothers for entertainment. She is exposed mainly to adult conversation and relationships, especially the complicated relationship between the four sisters who share a single husband. All of the women treat Dinah as their daughter. Each woman takes her into personal confidence and shares her inner secrets and talents with Dinah, hoping that in at least some small way they will live on through her. Consequently, Dinah becomes the product of the best each woman has to offer: learning cooking and mothering skills from Leah, healing from Rachel, a love of stories and the spiritual from Zilpah, and the importance of silence and kindness from Bilhah. She listens to their versions of meeting Jacob and the births of their sons so often that the four versions gradually meld into one blurred version. As her father spends the majority of his time in the fields, she only comes to know him through her mothers’ eyes and thus sees him as more of the image of a husband and lover rather than as a true father figure. She sees everything and remembers everything through the lens of her mothers, never forced to make opinions about anyone else until she is on her own.

Diamant portrays the sisters as pagans, worshipping idols and goddesses, while twenty feet away their husband spreads the word of the One God. The modern Judeo-Christian world recognizes Leah, Rachel, and Jacob’s grandmother, Rebecca, as the matriarchs of a monotheistic religion that eventually evolved into Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is hard to imagine that Jacob, whose father was saved by the One God, would allow his wives to worship multiple goddesses and take part in pagan rituals. Diamant explains this discrepancy by portraying the daily lives of men and women as separate. While the men spend all day in the fields, the women pass their days in the camp. Jacob likely passed on the stories of his fathers and their god to his sons, ushering them into his religion. On the other hand, Jacob’s wives are left to their own devices and thus continue to worship polytheists, following the same observances that have been handed down to them by their mothers.

The first two chapters of Part Two prepare readers for Jacob’s later character transformation—from the calm, rational behavior he exhibits here to his calloused, greedier self later. The redemption of Ruti shows the kindness of Jacob, as well as highlights Leah’s position as first wife and counselor to her husband. Though the sisters’ save Ruti from the traders, they cannot save her from loneliness, so she chooses to take her life rather than remain alone with Laban. Ruti’s suicide is the first truly awful and shocking moment in Dinah’s life, tearing her out of the protective and adoring bubble in which she has lived. Diamant has detailed a secure and loving childhood for Dinah, in which her mothers constantly attend to her and she is pampered inside the red tent, though custom forbids it. Dinah spends so much time in the company of doting women that she develops a sense of entitlement and carelessness. The image of Dinah running happily through the family’s tents as a child sets up an arresting contrast for the tragic events that come later in her adulthood.