The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Easy Rawlins is in many ways the typical private investigator of hard-boiled detective fiction. He works essentially for his own ends and is a free agent. He has a strong desire to uncover truth, even if he is the only one who ever possesses it, and to bring about justice, even when it is inconsistent with the law. A healthy dose of compassion, as exhibited by his love for his adopted son, Jesus, makes Easy a particularly well-drawn model of the hard-boiled detective as pioneered by major figures such as Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, and Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer. In short, Easy is a crusader for justice and truth in an unjust and illusory world.

Easy is not flawless. He drinks too much and is susceptible to certain male impulses. Easy is also complex. His character combines cynicism, based on his knowledge of the ways of the world, with idealism, based on his belief in a better world with which his conduct is in accord. Easy’s racial identity is also crucial to understanding his character. Whereas other private eyes are alienated philosophically from an unjust world, Easy himself is a member of an oppressed race. Part of the challenge he faces involves dealing with white powerholders from a position of socially imposed inferiority. Easy manages to triumph despite this obstacle, solving mysteries and keeping the authorities off his back. He also struggles to keep an even keel in his personal life.

Mouse represents a different model of accommodation to American racism. Put simply, Mouse is a killer. Easy,...

(The entire section is 644 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins

Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, (ee-ZEE-kee-ehl), an African American detective. He finds himself drawn into the investigation of a number of brutal murders of black women at the request of the Los Angeles police department, because he can go places and do things that the police officially cannot. Easy is from Louisiana via Texas and went to Los Angeles during World War II to work in the aircraft plants; he remained there after the war. Easy no longer has his job at the plant but is settled in California. He owns a house and lives off the proceeds of several rental properties he bought with money he obtained illegally and which he keeps secret. Easy is fairly flexible as a detective, but he has one motto that he lives by: As a rule, he will not run down a black man for the law.

Raymond “Mouse” Alexander

Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, Easy’s best friend from Texas. Mouse, a psychotic killer, reflects Easy’s dark and brutal side and often rescues him from tough situations when quick, violent action is needed. Mouse also expresses the suspicion of some African Americans toward whites. His casual attitude toward killing people provides much of the mordant humor in the novel.

Regina (Gina) Rawlins

Regina (Gina) Rawlins, Easy’s wife of two years and the mother of their baby girl, Edna. She works as a nurse at Temple Hospital. She is a gentle, warm woman who grew up in a desperately poor Southern black family. As well as taking care of her alcoholic father, she reared most of her thirteen younger brothers and sisters after the...

(The entire section is 680 words.)