Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Easy Rawlins has accepted the reality of the American Dream; he has fought for his country, he believes in hard work, and his life increasingly centers on his ownership of his home and his self-education. His genesis as detective extends this theme of self-reliance and self-help. As a man of property, he wants little to do with criminals or crime. In his travels as hired hand for Dewitt Albright, though, he discovers that this kind of work provides him with a sense of self-confidence and purpose that he has never before experienced. This paradox is part of the central structure of the book: Can Ezekial Rawlins live a life that is both “good” and “evil”?

The detective is required to synthesize wit, commanding presence, deductive reasoning, and instinct. Within the context of the African American literary tradition, the detective is potentially a powerful figure. This radical self-reliance, which contradicts racial stereotypes, allows the detective to explore and experience the boundaries of good and evil and the underside of American culture. The use of ironic commentary and omniscient narration allows the detective to speak safely about the realities of racism and to expose hypocrisy. Unlike more conventional protagonists of African American novels, moreover, a detective is not merely portrayed as a victim of racism. The focus of the mystery is not limited to racial themes. As a heroic individual and as an American detective, Rawlins demonstrates ingenuity, power, and an ultimate victory that are unquestioned.

The fragmentation of Rawlins’s character—as marked by the emergence of an inner voice that acts sometimes as...

(The entire section is 676 words.)

Devil in a Blue Dress Themes

Easy Rawlins finds himself questing for his social and cultural identity in a shifting racist milieu. His feelings of alienation, to no small...

(The entire section is 357 words.)