This spring semester, for my Gotham Writers novel class, I decided to use Easy Rawlins for our character study. Usually I use Jane Eyre, who I love, but I figured I might branch out.
Devil in a Blue Dress was published in 1990, and set in 1948 Los Angeles, but really could be set today. Easy Rawlins is a World War II veteran, who fought for the U.S., came to Los Angeles to get a job, was fired for not being respectful enough of his white boss, and winds up getting a job working for a really dangerous man.
One of the things that becomes clear as you read the book, is that racism is a daily indignity. Easy almost gets killed when a young white girl starts up a conversation with him. He tries to back away from her, but she’s relentless, and clueless.
At another moment he goes to an office to talk to the white man who’s hired him, but when he’s asked who he’s looking to see, he starts to stutter. “It was a habit I developed in Texas when I was a boy. Sometimes, when a white man of authority would catch me off guard, I’d empty my head of everything so I was unable to say anything. ‘The less you know, the less trouble you find,’ they used to say. I hated myself for it but I also hated white people, and coloured people too, for making me that way.'”
The most moving part of the book to me is Easy’s love of his house. This dream of his, to be able to hang on to that house, is what drives the story. This is how he describes it: “I loved going home. 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. There was an apple tree and an avocado in the front yard, surrounded by thick St. Augustine grass. At the side of the house I had a pomegranate tree that bore more than thirty fruit every season and a banana tree that never produced a thing. There were dahlias and wild roses in eds around the fence and African violets that I kept in a big jar on the front porch.”
Easy Rawlins has a strong voice, and I’ve often heard his words in my head as I’ve listened to other voices this week.
Mosley’s books are such great examples of many many things from writing to race. And you are so right about East Rawlings voice…. makes me want to re-read The Devil in a Blue Dress!