Dessa Rose Summary & Study Guide

Williams, Sherley A.
This Study Guide consists of approximately 37 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Dessa Rose.
This section contains 662 words
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Dessa Rose Summary & Study Guide Description

Dessa Rose Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Dessa Rose by Williams, Sherley A..

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Williams, Sherley Anne. Dessa Rose. HarperCollins, 1986.

In her novel Dessa Rose, Williams explores the individual's ownership of her body, mind, and identity through her 18-year-old protagonist Dessa. After Dessa stages an insurrection, she is recaptured and held in a cellar until she gives birth and the authorities can execute her. While in captivity, a white man, Nehemiah questions Dessa as a part of his research for his forthcoming book. In the first section of the novel the narrator lives closely behind Nehemiah's point of view. His perspective skews the readers understanding of Dessa and her story, as he sloppily records her words. He believes if he can learn the the truth of Dessa's escape and the details of her plotted revolt, he will be able to assist slaveowners in better controlling their slaves. The first two chapters of the novel, contained within the section The Darky, describe Nehemiah's attempts to extract the truth from Dessa. Dessa, however, is withholding, diverting Nehemiah's questions. She does, however, reveal her relationship with her deceased lover and the father of her unborn child, Kaine. When Nehemiah returns from a journey in search of other runaway slaves, he finds Dessa missing and grows anxious and riled by her escape.

In the second section of the novel, The Wench, the third person narrative shifts behind Rufel's point of view. She is the owner of Sutton's place where Dessa's friends Nathan, Harker, and Cully bring her after freeing her from the cellar. Rufel assists with Dessa's delivery and helps care for her child. She believes something must be wrong with Dessa that she was traveling so close to her due date. In this section, Rufel contemplates her life at the Glen, her disappeared husband Bertie, and her deceased handmaid Mammy. When Dessa questions Rufel's relationship with Mammy, Rufel feels everything she has believed as true is crumbling. Finding a listening ear in Nathan, Rufel begins a friendship with the man. Nathan encourages her to see Dessa's suffering as similar to her own. The two become intimate quickly, eventually making love. While they are having sex, however, Dessa discovers them and is furious.

In the third section of the novel, The Negress, the narrative shifts into Dessa's first person point of view. Dessa is enraged by Nathan and Rufel's relationship, believing their intercourse a threat to her friendship with Nathan. She moves out of the main house and into the Quarters. Her male companions, however, do not support her sentiments, and believe Nathan and Rufel are both consenting. Dessa continues to struggle with the implications of their affair, fearing Bertie will return and they will all be put in danger. Finally Harker tells her she must make amends with Nathan, as their kinship is too important to sacrifice for a white woman. He also confesses his love for Dessa, a sentiment that terrifies her. When the two begin to kiss, Dessa becomes afraid, worried she is betraying Kaine and ashamed of her scars. She eventually learns to love and trust Harker.

Soon after, the group leaves the Glen and ventures on a journey to sell the men back into slavery in order to make money to travel West. On their trip, they all grow closer to one another, realizing the connections they have made at the Glen transcend the larger societally racial divides. When they reach their last stop and Rufel tells Dessa she wants to go West with them, Dessa becomes angry and flees the hotel. In the street, Nehemiah spots her and drags her to jail. While back in custody, Dessa fears losing her independence, or worse, her life. Rufel comes to her rescue and defends her against Nehemiah's accusations. The women walk free from the sheriff's office. Though Rufel does not ultimately travel West with Dessa and her friends, Dessa thinks of her often, realizing her goodness and pureness of heart.

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