Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-10


Chapter 9

The next morning, Easy arrives at Champion aircraft company in Santa Monica to get his job back. Easy explains the purpose of Benny -- his boss' -- work team. Once Champion commissions a new aircraft to be built, Benny's team assembles a prototype. Then a group of inspectors goes over the work very carefully to make sure that the procedures for assembly are sound. Easy says that Benny fired him because he was in a bad mood from so much pressure on a new project. Benny had wanted Easy and his team to stay late to go over their work after a long shift. When Easy refused, Benny fired him. Easy says that were he white, Benny would have kidded and gone out for a drink with him. But because he is black, Benny fired him to demonstrate his feeling of racial superiority. When Dupree sees that Easy has arrived at Champion, he comes barreling out to greet him. He asks Easy what he said to Coretta the other night, because he has not seen her since she made a hasty exit the next morning. Easy can sense that Dupree is in a violent mood, so he lies and tells Dupree that he did not see Coretta after he helped her tuck Dupree into bed. He appeases his acquaintance by joking that Coretta must be gambling in Reno. After this narrow miss with Dupree, Easy swears never to take another man's woman. Yet he tells us, "I've taken that pledge many times since then."

Benny invites Easy into his office. He says he cannot give Easy his job back because it would make him look like a pushover. He gives Easy an opportunity to apologize and brownnose, implying that only then will he concede. But Easy is not willing to subordinate himself to Benny any longer. He tells Benny that he needs his job back so that he can pay his bills and nothing more. When Benny calls him by his nickname, Easy demands that Benny give him respect and call him "Mr. Rawlins." Benny does so, but maintains that he has no place for Easy at the plant. When Easy leaves Benny's office, Dupree is gone. He does not think much of it, as he feels triumphant for having stood up to Benny. He proclaims: "I had a notion of freedom when I walked out to my car."

Chapter 10

When Easy returns home from Champion aircraft, there is a black Ford parked outside his house. He pays it no mind until two white men approach him. He describes one, who is named Miller, as "tall and skinny" and the other, named Mason, as "my height and three times my girth." They show their police badges and say they must take Easy to the police station. When he resists, Mason punches him in the diaphragm and handcuffs him. They throw him in their Ford and take him to an interrogation room against his will. Easy is nervous, because they are not "follow[ing] the routine" to which he is accustomed at the police station. Usually he is brought into a "holding tank" of criminals before being interrogated. Easy explains: "I didn't know why they had me, but I did know that it didn't matter as long as they thought they were right." As he surveys the room, Easy notices a line of ants marching in through the window to devour the corpse of a dead mouse. He considers its fate, and assumes that a prisoner cornered and killed it a few days before. Just then, Mason and Miller enter the room. They take off his handcuffs, but proceed to hit and push him over as they interrogate him. They ask Easy where he was at five in the morning on Thursday. Easy says he got drunk at a nightclub and then escorted his drunk friend, "Peter," home. The officers ask Easy where he went after leaving Coretta James's house, and whether he fought with Dupree Bouchard. Easy says he went home from Coretta's and did not argue with Dupree. Mason tries to beat up Easy some more, but Easy throws him on the ground. When Mason asks Miller to leave him alone with Easy, he refuses. After Mason and Miller leave the room, Easy looks at the mouse again. He imagines that Mason is the mouse and he is the prisoner killing it, thinking: "I crushed him that his whole suit was soiled and shapeless in the corner; his eyes came out of his head." As the day grows dark, Easy dozes intermittently. Only then, Mason and Miller send him home, refusing to tell him why they brought him in or to help him get home, even though public transportation is closed for the night.


Easy's visit to Champion is more than anything, a commentary on racism. Benny is a first-generation Italian-American. It is safe to assume that his parents lived hard lives and endured much difficulty in immigrating to the United States. They likely faced discrimination in their new country. Yet Benny was not born an Italian; he was born a white, American citizen. Mosley does not give Benny an accent in order to differentiate him from the blacks in the story. Benny is dark-skinned, so it is likely that he has faced some racism himself. Perhaps partially because of this, he takes out his aggression on those 'darker' than him. Easy says, "His skin was darker than many mulattos I'd known. But Benny was a white man and I was a Negro. He wanted me to work hard for him and he needed me to be grateful that he allowed me to work at all." On the surface, Easy's conversation with Benny appears to be a normal one between employee and former employer. It is almost scripted up until the end when Easy stands up for himself. Behind the niceties and formality is real, deep racism. Benny is almost like Mr. Albright in the way he puts on a façade of kindness and honesty in order to deceive and degrade others.

Before Easy's visit to Benny's office, Mosley discusses race most obviously in relation to Easy's experiences as a black World War II veteran. Yet in Chapter 9, he harkens back to the kind of racism that blacks experienced when they were still enslaved. Easy says, "A job in a factory is an awful lot like working on a plantation in the South. The bosses see all the workers like they're children, and everyone knows how lazy children are." Later, he explains, "Benny didn't care about what I had to say. He needed all his children to kneel down and let him be the boss. He wasn't a businessman, he was a plantation boss; a slaver." In these quotes, Mosley makes us aware that even though the novel is set in 1948, many years after slavery was abolished, racism is just as pervasive and extreme as it was before emancipation. Many whites still look upon blacks as though they are intellectually inferior and have no sense of responsibility, like children.

Because of the extent of Benny's racism, Easy's triumph over him is especially meaningful. True, Easy does not win his job back, but Easy demands respect. When Benny calls him "Easy," our protagonist tells him: "I said, you have got to treat me with respect. Now I call you Mr. Giacomo because that's your name. You're no friends to me and I got no reason to be disrespectful and call you by your first name ... My name is Mr. Rawlins." It is clear that Benny does not respect Easy even though he calls him "Mr. Rawlins." But it is enough for Easy to make Benny just go through the motions of treating him as though he is an equal.

Easy's experience at the police station is a further examination of racism. Miller and Mason are indeed officers of the law and have the right to arrest someone whom they know is connected to an investigation. Yet they take a sadistic glee in arresting Easy and being cruel to him. Mason uses unnecessary force on Easy, hitting him and knocking him to the ground. They are cruel to him because they are racist, and their job gives them an opportunity to express their prejudice. Mosley again uses animal symbolism to represent Easy's situation. As Easy waits in the interrogation room, the dead Mouse in the corner sparks his imagination. This mouse represents Mason instead of the character named Mouse. Whereas in the jay metaphor, Easy is the animal, in this metaphor, he is the human and Mason is the animal. Mason sees Easy as an inferior being, an animal that he can abuse. By imagining that Mason is a Mouse that he can stomp on, Easy expresses the fact that he knows he is intellectually and morally superior to Mason. Mason is, in fact, the unfeeling "animal."