Race and Racism are one of the core issues in the 1940s, while the United States is still legally divided into “Black and White.” Written in 1940s, both Chester Himes’s If He Hollers Let Him Go and Water Mosley’s Devil in A Blue Dress factionalize the experience of being black in America in a specific time and reveal racial problems in the country’s history.
The communities at that time are segregated into two parts due to racial difference in Devil in A Blue Dress. People of different race tend to live and work in separate communities. As the novel begins, the main character, Easy Rawlines, is surprised to “see a white man walk in to Joppy’s bar”(10). Seeing Mr. Albright wearing a whole white suit, Easy quickly connects the issue to race to his experience during World War II. He remembers, “I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was”(10). Thus Easy’s experience of race in army Joppy’s bar reflects his thrill of fear in the deep down of his heart as being a black. Moreover, Easy’s experience with police typifies the gap between black and white communities. Both the two white detectives, Mason and Miller, express their racial superiority by how they humiliating Easy after they capture him. Easy also explains in Chapter 22 that the police do not care about crime in the black community unless white people are the victims. He asserts: “The paper hardly ever even reported a colored murder. And when they did it was way in the back pages … To kill a white man was a real crime.”These kind of social separations strengthen the tense atmosphere between these two ethnic communities.
Furthermore, race also plays an important role emphasizing complicated relationships between Jones and her girlfriend Alice. In If He Hollers Let Him Go, Jones struggles to accept the perspective of both her girlfriend Alice and her parents. Alice believes and urges Jones to believe as well, in the potential for success working within the existing social system of segregation, proving to whites that blacks can be successful by doing so on white terms. Alice’s parents, who are well-off, societally prominent in white society, have been greatly influence Alice and guides her to set up correct viewpoint of value. They have always believed that it is important to avoid the systemic racism in the socio-racial system of the time. When Alice talks to Jones that she will only stay with him if he apologizes to Madge and his bosses, he initially refuses her advice and principles she urges Jones to believe. But Jones finally agrees to do as she says when Alice convinces him happiness is the core thing they are seeking for and they are able to gain the real happiness only if they obey social standards in white community. As we can see, the genuine fear of racism make Jones struggle to define and secure his relationships with Alice.
Besides, we can tell more about the expressions of racism by the way how main characters are treated in both novels. In If He Hollers Let Him Go, Robert Jones struggles to conquer his fear of racism around him. The first instance of Jones fighting against his fear is during his working in the position of leadership and responsibility. He is encountered that a white woman, Madge, refuses to work for Jones because he is a “nigger”. Jones immediately lost his temper with Madge when he is offended by her scornful attitude and racial discrimination. However, this, in turn leads his supervisor disappoint with his performance and then demotes him. He felt frustrated and angry because of his skin color. Meanwhile, expressions of racism go beyond language in Devil in A Blue Dress. The teenage boys intentionally calls Easy “Nigger” to degrade him; Mr. Albright directly calls him “Easy” instead of Mr. Rawlines the first time they meet in order to express his white superiority. In addition, Mr. Cater subjects Easy to “the worst kind of racism” by talking with him like friends and treating him like an equal. Easy explains “Mr. Todd Carter was so rich that he didn’t even consider me in human terms. He could tell me anything. I could have been a prized dog that he knelt to and hugged when he felt low” (64).
To sum up, Racism is largely a dividing force in both novels, simply because we can see from the novels that both these two black male protagonists are subjected to racism from the white community.
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