The setting is a Mississippi plantation. Silas, who has been the Master's right-hand slave since he was a boy, is troubled by the appearance on the plantation of Polly Shine...a healer who Silas suspects is subtly challenging the status quo.
"I did my best to teach the master about slaves. Told him a hundred times when he was a boy that it wasn't a black skin that made a man a slave. It's the other skin, the one that grows on the outside, that second hide made of fear and obedience. What a good master does is every once in a while, prick that skin to remind folks that it's still there and always will be. I told him that if a slave was to molt that outside skin, you no longer have a slave. 'Mark my words," I said, 'when a man's not afraid, then he's hoping. And that's when all hell breaks loose.'"