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?