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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Butterfly

cover image By: Cain, James M. (male)
Publisher: New American Library, Inc. (Signet Books - 720)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 211: PS3505 .A3113 B8 1949
Contributor: J. Fitzpatrick


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: James M. Cain Geographic Locale: West Virginia / Kentucky border, near the Big Sandy River in Mingo County (fictionalized as Carbon County); fictional surrounding towns are: Tulip, Carbon City, Blount, and Gilroy Date of Publication: 1949  |  Original Date: 1946 Setting: rural; a farm near an abandoned coal mine in the Appalachian hills Motives: jealousy, adultery, and revenge, compounded by mistaken identity

Plot Summary

Seductive Kady Tyler returns to her father Jess's farm, after giving birth to an illegitimate baby named Danny. Jess has not seen Kady since his wife, Belle, left him, taking their two young daughters with her. Upon her return, Jess is seduced by Kady, and she persuades him to produce and sell moonshine whiskey. Moke Blue, Belle's lover, kidnaps baby Danny (who has a distinctive butterfly birthmark), bringing Belle and daughter Jane back into Jess's life along with Wash Blount, Kady's lover. The kidnapping leads to a series of events, including marriage, adultery, incest, and murder in the coalmining hills of Appalchia.

Major Characters

Jess Tyler adult male, 42 years old, farmer

Moke Blue adult male, 39 years old

Belle Morgan Tyler adult female, 39 years old, Jess's wife, Moke's lover

Kady Tyler adolescent female, 19 years old, Jess's daughter

Jane Tyler female, Jess's daughter

Danny baby boy, approx. 6 months old

Wash Blount adult male, 20 years old, Kady's lover, Danny's father

Ed Blue adult male, Moke Blue's cousin


Winchester rifles, .45 caliber pistols, knives

Level of Violence

several violent acts, but they are not described in great detail. Belle tries to stab Moke, and Jess shoots Moke. Jess also drags Moke's body into an old mine and seals it in. Ed Blue shoots Jess.


sex permeates the story, but is implicit, never stated explicitly beyond short phrases such as "hot kisses." Kady seduces Jess, and he gives in to the seduction. He does whatever she wants, as he is jealous of all her flirtations in the local bar. Also, Belle committed adultery with Moke Blue, and Kady and Jess believe they are committing incest. Kady also has an illegitimate child with Wash Blount.

Gender Roles


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Jess is a teetotaler, but drinks when Kady persuades him to build a still and sell moonshine. Kady drinks and seduces men in bars.

Law Enforcement

appears in the form of a local judge and a prosecutor when Jess and Kady are arrested

Added Features

social class plays a role in the novel; Kady could not marry Wash Blount because his father has risen from the ranks of miner to owner, and does not at first permit the marriage. Mining and unions are also alluded to throughout the novel.

Subject Headings

Adultery/ Incest/ Murder/ Kentucky/ West Virginia/ Appalachian Region/ Coal Mines and Mining

Film Adaptations

The Butterfly, 1981, Par Par