Dessa is the main character in the novel and she is portrayed with several different voices. At the beginning of the novel, we hear her unique dialect and tone as she fondly recalls a tender and sweet moment with Kaine, her love and father of her baby. Dessa is a complex character who is referred to as a “devil woman” and has sustained a great deal of brutality for her young age. She is a teenager who has been whipped many times and also branded. Her life on Steele Plantation included a community of slaves and her love, Kaine, with whom she became pregnant. Kaine’s love for Dessa is a tender story of their efforts to share time and a live together amid the circumstances of slavery. Kaine’s talent and love for music is expressed through his banjo, which he constructed himself. After this valuable instrument is destroyed, Kaine attacks the Master and Kaine is killed. In response, Dessa attacks the Master and is sold to the Trader Wilson. In the Wilson Rebellion, Dessa also attacks Wilson. The pregnant Dessa is captured, convicted and sentenced to be executed. Her escape to Rufel’s plantation is chaotic after she gives birth. Dessa develops a unlikely friendship with Rufel, a white woman.
Kaine is the love of Dessa and the father of Dessa’s baby. Kaine is a talented and charismatic black man. He tries to persuade Dessa to not have their baby because he does not want a child born into slavery. This wish is likely to be what drives Dessa to escape from slavery at any cost. Kaine’s voice, music, and story are only told as memories of Dessa in the story, as he has died before the events of the story take place.
Rufel (Ruth Sutton)
Rufel is a white woman living on a farm in Northern Alabama. She has been abandoned by her slave-owning husband. Dessa and her fellow slaves arrive on Rufel’s plantation. Rufel is struck by the ashen color of Dessa’s skin and hears the sound of a baby. She provides a safe haven for them. At first, she and Dessa experience a great tension, as neither one trusts the other. Rufel starts a relationship with Nathan, one of the slaves, and Dessa becomes jealous and frustrated at this union. Over time, the two women develop a friendship. At one point on their journey, they meet a man named Mr. Oscar and stay at his home. Rufel and Mr. Oscar drink too much and they end the evening in Rufel’s bedroom, but Rufel is uncomfortable with this turn of events. As Dessa is passing her bedroom, she calls for Dessa. When Dessa enters the room, she sees Rufel’s situation and helps to get him out of the room by hitting him with pillows. This scene is comical; however, for Dessa it represents the vulnerability of white women, an idea that she had not considered before. This even draws the two women closer together. Rufel shows considerable fortitude when she agrees to participate in a money-making scheme involving the false sale of her new slave companions. They travel together and form...
(The entire section is 1226 words.)