Msnowe's Blog

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on March 17, 2010

Someone’s still in the kitchen, tinkering with some Dinah story?

Myth telling, by nature, is variational. There are multiple interpretations or ways of telling for any one myth. For example, look at the expanding stories that spread across time and cultures when you think of the practically mirror-imaged gods of the ancient Greeks versus the ancient Romans. They use different names, and the stories have different details, but we invoke them interchangeably. Zeus, for all intents and purposes, is Jupiter. Similarly, the bible uses four different gospels, all essentially saying the same thing, but some gospels omit details that others include, etc., and so on. Oral tradition made a story’s malleability all the more apt, like a game of telephone, and to some extent, people are still willing to accept the odd reordering of classic stories for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s an ancient human necessity, a multiplicity of story options, rising out of our primordial goo.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, the meaning of the word “myth” as a religious narrative was eclipsed by an overarching sense of a mythical story’s inherent falsehood, and it became synonymous with “lie.” Somewhere, it stopped being primarily pedagogical and started being cute, ridiculous, bawdy, too simplistic, you name it–a multitude of sins. “Religion,” on the other hand, still smacks of the real, the serious, the important. But isn’t the bible just a big contributor volume (side note: that would’ve been a pain in the ass to commission editorially) of myths? Yeah, that’s blasphemous, but it’s true–modern biblical hermeneutics has shifted away from biblical literalism, i.e. “this Old Testament story is true, every last, sacred bit,” and towards a more practical approach to allegorical interpretations. It’s less about the order of events or veracity, and more about what you are able to glean from the stories themselves–their message. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoyable, or intimidating, or humbling.

So in comes m.snowe with her ruminations on The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, a little over a decade too late for the hubbub surrounding it’s release. This book combines all of the topics discussed above: myth-making, bible interpretation, human interest in retelling, remodeling a message for a modern audience. This book does a little bit of everything, in a thankfully god-less way—lady storytelling, bloodshed, cool Egyptians, caravans, you name it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not preachy. The book intimately and intensely subjects you to the harshness of childbirth and the powerlessness of women, especially in the time of the tribe of Abraham. It actually would’ve been even better to have seen some more up-close and personal descriptions (Dinah is a midwife after all), but we’ll settle for the scene where she takes a dagger to her own vagina to save her only child.

The story itself is compelling, if not a bit predictable (that is, if you remember the bible story) but what it does brilliantly, just by the nature of its perspective, is provide a female look at an old-as-dirt myth. It gives a female voice and presence to a story so many people know. It doesn’t do a bad job.
Then what is still irking me about it? Could it be the overt preachy-ness? Does Diamant’s need to rewrite, her hope to alter opinion impinge on her reader’s enjoyment of the story? Why shake the dust off and reconfigure an old tale, when you can create a new, just as endearing one, free from the taint of biblical definition?  Those are some things you’ll have to ask yourself, when you read it. Because despite its flaws, you should.

In a way, The Red Tent never escapes itself, despite its feminist bent, it never expands past the tent it builds for itself–women are still separate and sequestered in the book and by the book–m.snowe would be hard-pressed to find any male readers of this novel. Like the “feminine products” aisle of any drug store, it’s easy to see how this book might be shoved onto a back shelf, away from the glossy display caps up by the register. V. Woolf asked that writers strive towards androgyny–because true equality lies in the lack of care or question of gender, but this book assumes you are a woman without asking. Lovely. But if solely women’s hearts and minds were all that needed to change, then we wouldn’t be scrounging for equal pay and recognition in all things (I hope). This isn’t about building a fortress where “no boys are allowed,” it’s about opening up the tent, and creating a common ground where differences are celebrated, not segregated.

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Pakhit said, on April 22, 2010 at 5:41 am

    You completely missed the point.

  2. m.snowe said, on April 22, 2010 at 5:47 am

    Care to elaborate?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: