In the novel The Slave Dancer, why does Jessie leave the South and go to Rhode Island to live?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jessie leaves the South and goes to Rhode Island because there is no slavery there.  After his harrowing experiences on the slave ship, he wants to get as far away as he can from where the institution of slavery thrives.

Before he is kidnapped to serve on the Moonlight, Jessie aspires to become a chandler.  After his experience, however, he no longer cares about entering a field that would make him rich.  All he wants is to "do nothing that (is) connected ever so faintly with the importing and sale and use of slaves".  Jesse quickly realizes, however, that "everything (he) consider(s) (bears), somewhere along the way, the imprint of black hands".  He finally decides to accept an apprenticeship with an apothecary, and when he is done, he moves as far North as he can, settling in Rhode Island.  To his dismay, Jessie discovers that "even though (he is) out of the South, the South (is) not out of (him)".  He misses his home, and is haunted by his memories of The Moonlight.

Jessie fights for the Union Army during the Civil War, and spends three months in the notorious prison at Andersonville.  He believes he survived its horrors because he'd "been prepared for them on The Moonlight".  Finally, after the war, his memories of what he witnessed on the slave ship are softened, and do not torment him constantly, except for one thing.  He is never able to listen to music again, because at "the first note of a tune or a song", he is transported back in his mind to the scene of desperate, tormented slaves, dancing grotesquely to the strains of his flute ("Home and After").