Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-20


Chapter 19

Easy pays a visit to Ernesto's barber shop, outside of which stands the barber's palsied brother, Zeppo. Zeppo is "half Negro, half Italian," and cannot help shaking, stuttering, and making odd expressions. There is always a crap game in the back of Ernesto's shop, and he plays Italian opera. Ernest does not allow Zeppo in his shop because he is a drunk, and Ernest's father was a drunk who beat him and his mother. Easy sits down for a haircut even though it is not Thursday, when he usually comes in. Jackson Blue enters the shop and insults Lenny, with whose girlfriend Jackson purportedly had sex after she left him. When Lenny and Jackson begin to argue, Ernest steps between them with one of his razors to keep order. As Easy explains, "You had to be tough to be a barber because your place was the center of business for a certain element in the community. Gamblers, numbers runners, and all sorts of other private businessmen met in the barbershop."

Easy leaves Ernest money and leaves with Jackson. Zeppo follows them down the block and asks Jackson for whiskey. But Jackson says he does not sell for Frank Green anymore, because Frank only wants to deal with big buyers like stores. Easy says he is having a party and wants some Jim Beam for it, which makes Jackson suspicious. But he still agrees to get Easy whiskey, and Easy hopes the deal will lead him to Frank.

Chapter 20

Jackson, Zeppo, and Easy go to Abe's liquor store. Easy is glad to have Zeppo along, because he draws attention. On the way there, Jackson tells Easy the story of Abe and Johnny: brothers from Poland who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp by working as barbers. They were even forced to cut off their own wives' and daughters' hair before they were killed in the gas chambers. Abe saved Johnny when he was so sick that he was going to be sent to the gas chambers himself. He hid him Johnny in a hole he dug in the wall and collected food to keep him alive. Easy remembers the Jews he saw after liberating a concentration camp with his troops; they were "Nothing more than skeletons, bleeding from their rectums and begging for food." Easy's friend, Sergeant Vincent LeRoy, became guardian to a twelve-year-old Jewish boy whom he named Tree Rat. Vincent and the other men fed Tree Rat chocolate and rich foods. Unfortunately, Tree Rat died because his stomach could not handle the richness of the foods. Easy feels a kinship to the Jews because they have the common ground of facing prejudice.

Jackson tells Easy that Johnny is crazy because of his experiences in the death camp. One night, Jackson brought a girl named Donna Frank down to the liquor store and Johnny paid her five dollars to have sex with him right in front of Jackson. Abe does not want Frank Green selling to him, but Johnny buys from Frank behind his brother-in-law's back every Thursday. Johnny greets Jackson, Easy, and Zeppo. Easy haggles with Johnny until he gets a deal for two cases of Jim Beam for fifty dollars. He also buys Zeppo some whiskey and gives Jackson five dollars. After they leave the store, Jackson asks Easy to come clean. He knows that Easy is up to something, and is not really having a party. But Easy lies and invites Jackson to his party, which eases his suspicions. They part ways. Easy thinks, "All I had to do was live for twenty-four hours, until Frank made his weekly rounds."


Mosley uses the scene at the barbershop to further the plot while painting a fuller picture of Easy's community. Ernest's barber shop is the center of the community, making Ernest more than just a barber. Not only is he the men's confidant, he carries a great deal of respect because he maintains order among the community's toughest and least predictable characters. The people at Ernest's range from the barber himself to the gamblers to Easy to Zeppo. Zeppo is a particularly interesting character, because his scope and goals are very limited. Zeppo is disabled and an alcoholic. His life is a cycle of panhandling and drinking. His presence reminds us, and presumably Easy, that there are all sorts of small tales orbiting around his adventure.

In Abe's liquor shop, Mosley explores the similarities between blacks and Jews. Mosley himself is the son of a black Southern man and a Jewish mother of Eastern-European descent. When he creates Abe's liquor store, a Jewish-owned business in a black community, he allows himself to imagine his own ethnic backgrounds interacting in real time. Through Easy, Mosley explains that Jews and blacks understood one another because both were all too familiar with prejudice and mistreatment. Easy says, " ... Jews back then understood the American Negro; in Europe, the Jew had been a Negro for more than a thousand years." Because Johnny is Jewish, Easy and the other men are able to interact with him on a familiar, equal basis even though his skin is white. Each knows that the other is a minority, allowing him to respect the other.

Learning about Abe and Johnny's story allows Easy to bring up a new perspective about World War II, that of the Holocaust. Just like Easy, the Polish brothers-in-law have a heroic story of survival. Easy relates to the way they had to be brave to survive in the face of death. The only difference is that he was fighting the Nazis in combat while they were deceiving them inside Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps. Until he visits Abe's liquor store, Easy's stories about the war recount active combat and killing. When Easy considers the brother-in-laws' story, he reveals his experience of liberating a concentration camp. In this experience, Easy is not the one oppressed by enemy fire and racism within the army. He is the rescuer, helpless to help others.

Easy says: "I remembered the Jews. Nothing more than skeletons, bleeding from their rectums and begging for food. I remembered them waving their weak hands in front of themselves, trying to keep modest; then dropping dead right there before my eyes." Easy uses the story about the concentration camps to explain a level of respect between Jews and blacks. But the reader cannot help but notice how Easy's experiences of war, including this one, make his current situation pale in comparison. In earlier scenes, like Richard's murder scene, Easy's memories of war intensify his current feelings of disgust and fear. But his memories of the Jews and of Tree Rat make his current predicament seem small. Even though he is in danger, he feels close to success. Easy recalls: "All I had to do was live for twenty-four hours, until Frank made his weekly rounds."