As Du Bois writes, "One ever feels his twoness,-an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in the same dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder" (3). Late in his first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley suggests this Du Boisian schizophrenia And the irony of it all is that he's not in a conversation between Mouse and completely sure if it's worth the cover Easy: charge.
first his own house, then rental proper- ty, and last business real estate. In fact, the subplot of each novel concerns Rawlins's various attempts to maintain or expand his land ownership. Home ownership in particular gives him a sense of racial equality. As he tells us in Devil in a Blue Dress, "The thought of paying my mortgage reminded me of my front yard and the shade of my fruit trees in the summer heat. I felt that I was just as good as any white man, but if I didn't even own my front door then people would look at me like just another poor beggar, with his hand outstretched" (9). But Rawlins wants more than just home ownership; he wants to "own enough land that it would pay for itself out of the rent it generated" (52), and ownership of rental property reflects his desire to enter the white-American middle class. Indeed, in Black Betty, he has sunk much of his money into a scheme to build a shopping mall, perhaps the ultimate cultural icon of the postwar white-American middle class. His interest in joining the middle class is also reflected by his attempts, in all the novels, to gain a formal education. In A Red Death, Rawlins tells us about courses he's taking at Los Angeles City College-in particular, a class on Shakespeare. In White Butterfly, we see him read from Plato's Phaedo.
This unit will be implemented in a mixed grade level (9-12) special education resource English class. Included in the class are students with learning and/or emotional disabilities as determined by a psychological report and Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Each student's educational team has determined that they will not be successful in a regular education English class with their non-disabled peers. Therefore, the students are given adapted English instruction at their functioning level instead of actual grade level. This proves beneficial in that the students' IEPs drive instruction and I have some flexibility with content. Administrators instruct me to follow the district adopted Kaplan curriculum, but it is at my discretion to supplement, modify and adapt instruction based on student needs. It is my opinion that this unit can be modified and adapted for a regular education classroom as well. Included in this unit is a section for an activity used as an extension for my population of students with learning disabilities. This activity includes examining the notion of double-consciousness in Devil in a Blue Dress and subsequent Easy Rawlins novels. This portion of the unit would be very appropriate for any regular or honors education class.
Mosley's books have been translated into twenty languages and his short stories have appeared in GC, Esquire, USA Weekend, and Buzz magazines.
Devil in a Blue Dress was made into a movie in 1995 starring Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals, produced by Jonathan Demme and directed by Carl Franklin.
Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries are intended for adult audiences. Devil in a Blue Dress is between a fourth and fifth grade reading level, but the content is appropriate for high school students. The readability level was found using Fry's Readability graph in which an excerpt of one hundred words is selected. The number of sentences and the number of syllables within the one hundred words are counted. This is done with three different excerpts, ideally from the beginning, middle and end of the book. I took passages from chapters three, eleven and nineteen. The readability levels were fifth, second and seventh grade, respectively. An average of those three levels indicates a mean grade level of 4.6. This is probably lower than expected because there is a lot of dialogue that includes short sentences, idioms and dialect. The readability is very appropriate for my below grade level readers, and the content is still of an adult nature. This is extremely beneficial in keeping my students motivated with literature they can read and content that is still interesting. Teachers of literature and social studies at the middle and high school levels may be interested in this unit. The Easy Rawlins novels give historical insight. I recently completed a curriculum in my local seminar through the Pittsburgh Teacher's Institute. The seminar examined African-American impact on United States culture. My unit detailed youth in the civil rights movement. Mosley's novels in historical settings leading up to the civil rights movement will relate to my local seminar curriculum unit.
Mosley's four L.A. detective novels-Devil in a Blue Dress (1990),A Red Death (1991), White Butterfly (1992), and Black Betfy (1994)-a11 present essentially the same story, and each reinforces Mosley's own ambivalent sense of the genre. In each novel, Easy Rawlins is asked (or commanded) to locate someone in the black community or to solve a series of deaths or murders. In each novel, Rawlins successfully carries out his assigned task, although in doing so he triggers some kind of violence, often a murder, which he must then attempt to solve. In Devil in a Blue Dress, Rawlins, fired by a racist supervisor at an aircraft factory and thus in danger of losing his house for nonpayment of his mortgage, is hired by a white gang- ster (Albright) to locate Daphne Monet, a white French woman often seen in the black community. As Rawlins searches for the woman, several people are killed. In the end, along with locat- ing the murderers, Rawlins eventually discovers that Monet has stolen $30,000 from Albright and that she is neither French nor white. In A Red Death, Rawlins, now a landlord with money appropriated from the $30,000 in the first novel, fights to save his house from the IRS (for nonpayment of taxes) and is thus pressured by the FBI (dur- ing the Korean War) to investigate a
Let me start by comparing two opening scenes, the first from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My el^ (1942) and the second from Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress (1990).Farewell, My Lovely begins-as Philip Marlowe, Chandler's hardboiled detective narrator, tells us-on "one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue, the blocks that are not yet all Negro" (143). Marlowe is on a missing person's case and notices "a big man . . . not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck" staring up at a sign above a bar. The other people on the street, "slim quiet negroes," pass "up and down the street and stare at him with darting side glances" (143). Almost immediately, we might say, racial difference is marked in terms of demographics and racial identity: The person Marlowe and everyone else notices is described as a "man," while the blacks are identi- fied in racial terms.
Some parts of Walter Mosley's novels are sexually explicit and there is some use of foul language. The movie, Devil in a Blue Dress is rated R and should be used cautiously. It is my recommendation to send a parent letter with a permission line allowing students to interact with the material. It may also be possible for the teacher to casually "skip over" explicit sections. Most notably, chapter 6, Easy and Coretta James on the couch while Dupree sleeps in the next room, parts of chapter 8, DeWitt Albright and Easy on the pier, parts of chapter 26, Easy and Daphne Monet in the little house behind Primo's place. Chapter 26 does begin to piece together the events of the novel, and it would be difficult to skip this entire chapter.
Soitos describes the double-consciousness trope of all detective fiction as the "masking" trope. He suggests that the black detective must wear two masks. This is both difficult and advantageous. The masking allows the black detective to maneuver his way through the black community to get information, knowledge, clues. He fits in with the culture he is enmeshed in. At the same time, the detective, in an effort to outwit the criminal, must be on his toes. The detective must "act white" in some ways. He is smart (but can't always let on to the black community that he is actually solving the mystery), he must make efforts to communicate with the - often corrupt - white police and/or black police. Easy Rawlins is thoroughly aware of his "blackness" in a white dominated society (Soitos 1996). The first line of Devil in a Blue Dress, "I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's bar," already identifies race in the opening chapter of the novel. Rawlins must best the criminals' intellect, and in order to do so, he must understand both the white and the black mind. Easy can more easily manipulate both the black and white world to further his solution of the crime if he is able to wear both masks.
In a sense, of course, these novels do break with the hardboiled tradition in that race plays a major role in each. In Devil in a Blue Dress, Rawlins's unwillingness to tolerate the racist actions of his supervisor gets him fired. Later, when Rawlins visits Albright, he is confronted by one of the white gang- ster's bodyguards and stutters:
The hook for this unit will be two-fold. On the first day of introduction of the novel I will hold class in the auditorium. I will arrange for a still shot of Daphne Monet, the mysterious woman in the blue dress, from the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, to be shown on the projection screen. Students will spend ten minutes working in pairs, one assigned as a recorder, to describe the woman in the picture. Guiding questions will be provided. They include: Describe what she looks like. How is she feeling? Who is she? What is her story? Students will then be given their own copy of the novel. Students will follow along as I read the blurb on the back of the book. I will also read any text on the inside front and back of the cover of the novel. Each student will be asked to write down what they think is the first sentence of the novel. The note cards will be collected. I will mix them up and include the real sentence in the mix. I will read each sentence once, then reread them for students to vote on which they think is the real sentence. Any student who guesses correctly will be awarded Mosley Money. The student whose sentence received the most votes will also receive Mosley Money. A discussion regarding student expectations of the book will take place.