Within the novel Devil in a Blue Dress, the story is told about a black man in the 1940s who is trying to establish himself in the American Dream – owning his own home and making a comfortable living for himself. However, given the time period and the cultural situation, he finds it difficult. He is fired from his job for racial reasons and dabbles in a bit of crime as a means of trying to hold onto his home. His progress through the story continues to pop up through his various associations with animal symbols.
When the story begins, Easy sees a blue jay that perches on the fence all the time and terrorizes the neighbor’s dog just by being there. This is easily seen as Easy, who constantly teases the white men around him just by being there and being a reasonably independent black man. A confident black man in the 1940s was viewed as something of a threat to the white men of the era, which is why Easy was fired from his job to begin with. The fact that the jay sits on the fence is also symbolic of Easy as he isn’t able to commit to either side. He doesn’t commit himself to the black attitude of giving in to the white man and consistently works to own his own home. He also isn’t willing to commit to the white world and do whatever they tell him. He can’t commit to a completely legal lifestyle because that would mean losing his house, but he also doesn’t fully commit to living the life of a criminal. He has everything he needs to succeed, but can’t commit to doing what it will take on his own.
Later in the story, Easy finds himself arrested, charged with the murder of Coretta, and becomes associated with the dead mouse that he sees in the corner of the interrogation room. Mice are generally considered to be powerless and fearful animals and this one, being dead, suggests that Easy is simply another victim of the cat and mouse team of police officers there to question him. Easy is tempted to hide like the mouse and cower down in a corner until he is also dead, but he is also reminded of his friend Mouse, who tends to act on instinct and has killed men before in order to protect himself. This reminds Easy of his own inner strength and he turns the symbol onto Mason, imagining him crushed by Easy as Mason’s suit becomes stained by the murk around them.
With his confidence back and Mouse back in his corner, Easy is again ready to take on the world and becomes associated with the catfish. The catfish lives an easy life, lurking down at the bottom of the muddy water and letting the food and the good life come to him. Taking on this animal symbol, Easy is able to find Daphne, discover who she is and use that information for his own benefit. He is then able to use that same information to blackmail Todd Carter in order to get the protection he needs from the police. Although the comfortable life he’d always sought had eluded him through most of the story, taking on the symbol of the catfish allowed him to finally settle down to the easy living he’d dreamed of.
Throughout the story, Easy becomes associated with different animal symbols that represent his progress through the story. From a blue jay that tantalizes the vicious dogs around him while he can’t decide where to get off the fence, to the mouse that hides in the corner, it doesn’t look as if Easy is going to get his way. But then he turns the symbolism over onto those who are tormenting him and is able to take on the form of the catfish, finally managing to use his confidence and his intelligence to create the kind of life he wanted.
- Mosley, Walter. Devil in a Blue Dress. Washington Square Press, 2002. Print.