Devil in a Blue Dress

In chapter 15 of Devil in a Blue Dress, Mr. Albright says, “We all owe something, Easy. When you owe out then you’re in debt and when you’re in debt then you can’t be your own man. That’s capitalism” (147-148). This quotation, despite coming from the story’s antagonist, encapsulates a lot of Easy’s philosophies. First, the mortgage debt that Easy owes to the bank is what engenders all of his actions. Second, the masculine undertones of Albright’s statement are omnipresent throughout Easy’s narrative.

Easy is constantly trapped, even at the novel’s outset; and he is entrapped by his own notions of what it is to be a man. His desire to stand on his own, to be free, is what drives everything that he does. The way that Easy aims to satisfy this desire is through the acquisition of money and land. There is an idyllic quality to the way he thinks about the house he is in the process of paying off. Easy appears willing to die – and he nearly does – before he gives up the house. His masculine identity is married to the idea of financial independence.

What I was wondering as I read the novel was if Mosley was trying to expose a flawed notion or if he supported it. That is to say, the novel at times seems to promote sexism, materialism, and greed. What does Daphne represent to all of these men but an ideal white sex object? When it is revealed that Daphne is passing as white, what does that change and why? Did Easy desire her because of her whiteness? And if so, doesn’t the notion of her whiteness as beauty permeate the novel? Never does a black female earn the same worshipful description as Daphne. Mouse says that Easy is just like Daphne in that he wants to be white (253). Easy does long for a lifestyle lived primarily by white people during the time period in question – a lifestyle in which amassed land acts as economic sustenance. Mouse says that Easy’s way of thinking is wrong. He says, “And a nigger ain’t never gonna be happy ‘less he accept what he is” (253). So, according to Mouse, Easy is playing a part, or acting white, because he cannot come to terms with “what” he is.

But Easy does appear to be happy at the novel’s conclusion when he has buckets of money and property. Has Easy accepted what he is, as Mouse said he should? Or is Mouse wrong? It seems that Easy has not changed at all. It seems that he has achieved the end he set out to achieve, but what is Mosley trying to accomplish, then? Albright’s definition of capitalism motivated Easy’s every move. He wanted to be his own man: he did not want to be held down by any kind of debt or family. He wanted money and the freedom that he believed it offered, and that is what he got. So, for a character that is constantly abused by white people, is Easy – as Mouse says – trying to be white to achieve his ends? If so, are his ends flawed? Or is Mouse wrong?

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4 responses to “Devil in a Blue Dress

  1. Jonathan

    I think that you bring up some very interesting ideas.
    1. What does it mean to “accept yourself” as Mouse says? Especially in an overtly racist world in which Easy, even though he is as qualified and as hard working as the white workers in the Champion factory, will never make enough money to retire. Easy seems perfectly willing to work for his money, yet there is discrimination in every job he has experienced. Does accepting yourself mean accepting lower pay and longer hours for the same work as white men? It seems as if Easy’s standards for work are very far from “white” as Mouse claims because Easy is not willing to take the discrimination he faces. He quit his job and refused to beg for it a couple days later. Although, as I type this, I am realizing that Easy might not have worked as hard as he could of for his job because he knew he had the money for his house secured through the money he got from Albright.
    2. Easy’s house and his connection to it also brings up some ambiguity. Is Easy’s obvious love for his house because he has attached some misguided notion of “whiteness” to owning land? Or does owning a house give Easy agency and make him feel worthwhile in a world that daily tells him otherwise? When he speaks about his house, he mentions the fruit trees and the flowers. “Maybe it was that I was raised on a sharecropper’s farm or that I never owned anything until I bought that house, but I loved my little home” (56). I really feel that Easy has worked so hard for his house and financial security so that he can carve out a life of his own and like Mouse says, “accept what he is.”
    I also wanted to talk about he noir aspect of this novel. I haven’t read that much Chandler or Hammett, but it seems to be a direct nod. Also, how does a book like this compare to or fit into the context of the blaxploitation films of the 70’s?

  2. darise15

    Easy is a smart fool. At least that’s my impression of him as I near the end of the novel. His intelligence shines through in his ability to identify the sources of his pain and hardship — Jim Crow south, racism at the factory, racism at the hands of the police and in the military. His foolishness comes through at the way he handles his hardship — pursuing the dirty deal for Daphne Monet for financial reward. Although Easy constantly recognizes that in this dirty deal he is dealing with white men who don’t care about him, he continues to work for them.

    As earlier posts state, Easy is driven by the desire to acquire financial stability, which is not at all the same as wealth. Like many folks barely getting by, his standards are lowered to what seems more attainable. After losing his job, Easy believes that he can only attain what is readily accessible to white people through violent and criminal means. Mosley suggests that desperate times call for desperate measures. Although the novel takes place in 1948, the themes of joblessness, disenfranchisement, and economic insecurity are still prevalent today in the black community.

    Mouse’s suggestion that Easy wants to be white could translate to him wanting to live comfortably. To get what he wants he has to activate his street sense, and become creative, because conventional avenues are closed to him despite the fact that he served for his country, lives in L.A., and is decades removed from Jim Crow.

  3. Sabrina

    When Mouse says, “And a nigger ain’t never gonna be happy ‘less he accept what he is,” he’s also talking about Daphne (253). The hyper-sexualization of Daphne is reminiscent of Angela in Plum Bun and Clare in Passing. All of these women attempt to solve their problems through men and sex, in varying degrees. They are unhappy with who they are and try to find the solution elsewhere. They live dual lives, but Mosley takes it to a new extreme by giving Daphne a split personality. Why must the biracial character in these novels always find themselves divided? This is a new take on the tragic mulatta trope. Rather than waiting for society to bring about her end, Daphne sets herself on a destructive path. Although it can be argued that the authors imply that the destructive choices and sexual promiscuity are a byproduct of being biracial.
    Daphne never attempts to fully assimilate into white society, but she is unable to fully accept her blackness. Yet Mosley, and many other novelists, does not create a space where a biracial character is not left in a black/white, either/or binary.
    If Daphne is split into a white and black personality, which is the victim of sexual abuse? Which personality befriends Coretta? Which personality falls in love with Carter and which one “shacks up” with Easy for two days? Is her dual personality the effect of sexual abuse or of her mixed heritage? Or is Mosley implying that her hypersexualization created by her mixed blood led to incest?

  4. darise15

    I had to look this up:
    Don Cheadle played Mouse in the film adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress. Also, Tom Sizemore (currently on Celebrity Rehab) played DeWitt Albright.

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