Williams uses multiple voices and perspectives to create characterization in Dessa Rose. Of the five principal characters, Harker is the least complexly developed. Like Dessa’s first husband, Kaine, who appears in the novel only in Dessa’s memories, Harker is presented chiefly through Dessa’s description of him. However, the crucial scene in which Harker convinces Dessa to participate in the risky scheme that will make their future possible is structured as a dramatized conversation in which readers, like Dessa, feel the force of Harker’s words.
Nathan is seen through the eyes of a number of other characters: Dessa, who initially trusts him implicitly but feels betrayed by his choice of a white woman; Harker, who in his conversation with Dessa defends Nathan’s right—and by implication the right of all the escaped slaves—to make free choices; and Ruth, who finds him the most honest adult companion she has ever had. Williams also includes a brief section in which Nathan’s thoughts are presented to explain the complex effect of Miz Lorraine’s demand for his sexual services on his sense of identity and self-esteem.
Adam Nehemiah’s history, ambitions, and assumptions are thoroughly developed in the section of the novel called “The Darky,” which begins with him as the focus of narrative point of view. Lengthy passages reproduce the language of the journal in which he records Dessa’s story, his own reflections, and the events of his interaction with “the darky.” His language reveals that speculation about sex between Dessa and her...
(The entire section is 650 words.)