In the autumn of 1850 the man called Mose, a fixture on the Horton plantation in North Carolina, is sold to a wily slave trader to settle a debt. Traveling southward, he sinks into cruel bondage while a woman sold by Horton at the same time runs northward to freedom. In Savannah Mose becomes the property of a kind master, but in Alabama under the thumb of Cody Hawk he suffers intensely. With some help from a slave named Pearl, he shakes off the deadly grip of a dark force, experiences a kind of rebirth, and gains the strength to escape the hell created by Hawk. Saving himself, he is not able to save Pearl.