Dessa Rose is historical fiction and begins with a Prologue, a description of a moment between Dessa and Kaine. Dessa illustrates the tenderness of their love through his song, his actions, and her responses and delight in their union. This Prologue is in Dessa’s own words as she describes a scene from a moment in the past.
The story has a third-person omniscient narrator, notes from a writer named Adam Nehemiah, and first-person narration from Dessa. Nehemiah is gathering information from Dessa and others about the Wilson Rebellion for his account entitled “The Roots of Rebellion in the Slave Population & Some Means of Eradicating Them.” Nehemiah is writing a book on slave uprisings.
In the story, the fictional Wilson Rebellion takes place on a trail near Linden in Marengo County, Alabama. Five white men are killed and Master Wilson loses his arm. Thirty-one slaves are killed and nineteen are branded or flogged. About $38,000 worth of property is destroyed or damaged. Dessa attacks Master Wilson and so begins this violent event. After spending a period in jail, she is moved to Sheriff Hughes' farm to be near his cook who can also serve as a midwife to the pregnant Dessa.
Nehemiah visits Dessa to ask her questions. His previous work allowed him to interview subjects about slave uprisings in Tennessee and also in Louisiana. James Carpenter is a major landowner in Louisiana and his information foiled the insurrection. For this portion of his report, Nehemiah relies on information from Sheriff Hughes who has had far greater contact with slaves (as a slaveowner himself) than Nehemiah would ever wish for himself.
Dessa and a group of Wison’s slaves were on their way to the market to be sold. They had planned only of stunning the white men leading the group, taking their guns, tying them up and leaving; what actually happened that dark night went beyond anyone's expectations.
One of the white guards in the group was an alcoholic who was continuously raping Linda, a slave, in the bushes. On his return from the bushes, he failed to secure the chain after removing Linda from it. Someone in the chain moved and all of the chains fell away. Linda appeared with a bloody rock in her hand and the rebellion began.
Sheriff Hughes enters the cellar where Dessa is being held and Dessa moves away. A look or flicker in her eyes sets off a violent response from Hughes; he strikes her and bloodies her nose. He immediately regrets his outburst. He gives her the “saltwater” treatment; no food and only heavily salted water to drink.
Dessa demands a bath in a creek. She injures her foot and develops a limp. She moves with chains around her ankles and she is very close to delivering her baby.
At first when Nehemiah asks her questions, she does not answer. From either exhaustion or pain, her eyes remain close and only occasionally flicker. At some points during her captivity, she hums songs and begins describing Kaine and his banjo. She also argues that slaves belong only to their masters and not to their mothers, sisters, brothers, or family.
Dessa explains that the baby belongs to Kaine and that she had refused to abort when given the opportunity. This upsets Nehemiah. Dessa also explains that she had to persuade Kaine to let her keep the baby; he did not want to have a child that would be born into slavery.
After her escape from Hughes farm, Dessa has taken to Sutton's plantation. As they approach the...
(The entire section is 1429 words.)