A Role Of Sonny’s Blues

Sonny’s Blues was a story that can be easily resonated with for some people. The boy by which the story is named for, Sonny, had lived a very troublesome and somewhat lonely life. His older brother was the narrator of the story and only wanted the best for Sonny who was seven years younger than he was.

Sonny had faced many trials throughout the story including drug abuse, his decision to join the navy, and trying to start a career in music. His older brother was caring to the best of his ability, though many times he just didn’t know how to react with some of Sonny’s words and actions. They do their best to see each other’s points of view and sometimes it works better than others.

In the beginning of the story, the narrator led the reader to believe something terrible had happened. At first, nobody had a clue as to what had happened or to whom, but were given an insight on what the narrator was feeling in regards to this. He described it as a great block of ice that had settled in his stomach, melted, and sent ice water through his veins. This became a recurring feeling for him. Soon, we learn that Sonny is his younger brother who is struggling with heroin addiction. There was a boy that met the narrator as he was leaving work, ready to inform him about Sonny’s state. Sonny’s brother had already known because of an article in a newspaper, but the two stayed chatting and the boy had answered a lot of the brother’s questions. Sonny and his brother had written letters to each other until Sonny made it back to New York after rehab. His brother described him as looking older and thinner than the Sonny he once knew. Sonny had lived with his brother and his family for a short time until there was a falling out.

One day, Sonny’s brother had asked him what he planned on doing in his future. Sonny replied with a simple I’m going to be a musician. His brother was not sure how to respond so he asked a few more questions. Questions like: You mean, you want to be a drummer? and What kind of musician do you want to be? He ended up working it out of Sonny. Sonny told him we wanted to play jazz music with what their daddy had called good-time people. Sonny had made it clear that he was serious about a career in music, whether or not his brother was going to accept his decision. His brother had said it was time for get serious about his future and what he was going to do for a living. Sonny had finally said he had wanted to join the Army or the Navy, this way, he could get out of Harlem and still have the G.I. bill waiting for him when he came out. Soon after, Sonny’s brother convinced him to start going back to school. Sonny agreed and also started playing the piano. Day and night, in between meals. He became better each day and even bought records that allowed him to practice improvisation with the music. Come to find out, Sonny had stopped going to school all together. Every letter that had come, Sonny had gotten rid of.

Once Sonny’s brother and his wife Isabel found out about this, they were very upset. After they had scolded Sonny, he packed up his records and left without a trace. Nobody had heard from him until he had sent a postcard from somewhere in Greece. He had decided to join the Navy. His brother hadn’t seen him until long after the war was over, and even then, Sonny was not the same person. He had told his brother to not worry about him and as far as Sonny was concerned, he was dead in this life to his brother. Sonny’s brother was crushed as he was leaving the apartment. They didn’t talk for a while after that until Sonny went to his brothers house after a revival. He had invited his brother to watch a gig he had in a downtown club. His brother went with him willingly and finally came to realize how much it meant to Sonny.

Sonny’s music mattered to him a great deal at that point in his life. This was how he was making a living. His brother had listened to Sonny and his band play Am I Blue and at that moment, his brother realized how deeply someone could be moved through the music. Sonny’s brother was able to create a story out of the blues by just listening intently. His brother had bought a round for the bandstand and the pair was at peace in their relationship once more.

Blue As A Tool For Narrative Development

Story is based on common themes that explores suffering experienced by a black family predominantly two brothers as they struggle through individualism, lack education, drug addiction and imprisonment. It describes the struggle of two brothers separated and caught in the entanglements of time, space, and ideals. The narrator explains how Harlem was a very ruff neighborhood to live in and to raise a family, due to the environment he was living in Sonny lacked education and begin to do drugs but uses jazz music as an outlet.

This piece of literature introduces suffering experienced by a black family predominantly two brothers which is analyzed in the story.

Nevertheless, many critical views argue that Baldwin has figuratively used the blues in development of his narrative. The themes have been brought out in the narrative as bebop. Baldwin may have used the element of the blues to emphasize the essence of togetherness in the society. Therefore, it would be correct to argue that Baldwin uses the blues idea in his work because of the structure, the content, the discussion of the theme of individualism and the use of jazz reference in the final section of the story.

The setting in this story is one many can relate to, riding home on a train, bus, taxi cab or even walking home reading the newspaper only to discover a situation or tragedy hit home. I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and on my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside. (Baldwin 251) It puts you in a place of discomfort and a feeling of unease. The narrator experiences combat fatigue hearing the news of his baby brother by the name of Sonny being arrested for using and selling drugs in the street of Harlem. This man was so afraid for his brother that he barely could keep it together while teaching his math class. A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. (Baldwin 251) The narrator was overwhelmed by the news that he had read in the newsprint this was too much for him to receive into his spirit early in the morning, I was in disbelief he couldn’t digest what was going on mentally. This incident reminds the narrator of growing up with his brother in Harlem and how things were on the streets and in their own neighborhood.

Based on the structure of the narrative, it is apparent that the Baldwin uses the format of blues music in the discussion of his themes. They were filled will rage (Baldwin 257). The blues are associated with low spirits which have been clearly brought outB in Baldwin’s story. The narrator is not comfortable with his selfish life. As it can be seen in the story, he prefers leading respectable and safe life. His brother on the other side leads an opposite lifestyle, he is more into substance abuse. Perhaps it’s possible then to see Baldwin’s title as an invitation to question the very sense of blues (Sherard 1). This statement by Sherard supports the fact that the blues structure is used in the Sonny’s Blues story. The title might be focusing on how Sonny uses the blues in the discovering himself.

Baldwin has used the structure of the blues in the development of his narrative. I read about it on the paper, in the subway on my way to work. I read it, and I could not believe it, and read it again. (Baldwin 251). As mentioned earlier, the blues are synonymous with low spirits. It is evident from the above statement that the narrator of the story was in such a low mood. The narrator is not happy with his brother who has been engaging in illegal activities. According to Sherard, Baldwin’s description of the motion inside the subway cay conveys the rhythm of change (2). The description of the subway is common element brought ought in the blues. For years the railway has been used in jazz music to symbolize Africa Americans. Therefore, it would be correct to argue that the blues structure has been used in the Sonny’s Blues story.

The blues take into account the form and the content of the music, which is also evident in the Sonny’s Blues narrative. You don’t know how much I needed to hear from you (Baldwin 254). The author of the narrative aims at bringing out the theme of brotherhood in the story. It is for this reason that he portrays the narrator as a concerned person who is anxious about his brother’s behavior (Chapter 9). Notably, the blues motif has always been used to portray the actual status of the society. So it is with the history of jazz, and also in the history of the families described in this narrative. (Lee 286). As mentioned earlier, the blues are based on the format and the content. Therefore, the Baldwin has focused on the elaboration of the history of jazz music to elaborate the actual state of the African American society.

The author of the narrative has also used the jazz motif to bring out theme of individualism. Well, look, Sonny, I’m sorry, don’t get madname somebody you know, a jazz musician you admire (Baldwin 259). Sonny is a pianist who likes to play jazz a genre associated

with individuality. Being competent in the area depends on a person’s capability to improve their skills. It all depends on an individual’s hard work. The author of the story has included this element in the narrative to emphasize on individualism in the society. Of course, improvisation ”players having the freedom to be composers, of solos or of styles”drives individual pieces as well as the history of jazz players having the freedom to be composers (Lee 286). As it can be seen in this statement, jazz players have the freedom of composing their own songs according to their interest. Therefore, it would be correct to ascertain that Baldwin incorporates an element of jazz players in his narrative to focus on the theme of individualism.

In the final section of the story, Baldwin uses jazz references to focus on the theme of the struggles of life. ?He and the piano stammered, started one way, panicked, marked time, started again; they seemed to have found a direction, panicked again got stuck (Baldwin 139). Based on the above statement, Baldwin brings jazz references that motivate Sonny to find himself through the art of music. The struggles of life that Sonny goes through while trying to find himself is compared to the difficult process of learning how to play the piano. The blues influences bebop at another, more explicitly emotional level in Sonny’s Blues. (Claborn 89). Similarly, Claborn still argues that the blue played a significant role in Africa American society. Musicians were able to express themselves through music. The same way Baldwin does in his narrative. He tries to bring out the actual status of the African American society.

From a critical review, it is clear that Baldwin’s uses of the blues in the development of his content and structure supports the thesis statement of this paper. In the story, the author has included musicians such as Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong to refer to the characters in the narrative. Bird! Charlie Parker! Don’t they teach you anything in the goddamn army? (Baldwin 259). The inclusion of jazz artists in the story implies that the author was more inclined on the ideas applied in the blues in his narrative. According to Claborn This story of the doomed double for Robert Johnson, which fulfills the myth of the self-destructive blues musician speeding towards death as mentioned earlier, the author uses the life history of jazz musicians to elaborate on the problem facing the African American society.

Although Baldwin uses the blues to support his themes in the story, some structural flaws in the narrative might impel readers to question his understanding of the blues motif. Bird! Charlie Parker! Don’t they teach you anything on the goddamn army? (Baldwin 259). This statement would impel readers to question whether musicians are related to the army. Sonny argument on military lessons learned from Charlie Parker seems to be out of place. Based on this point of view, it would be correct to argue that the use of the blues ideas in Baldwin’s narrative is not effective. It does not help the support of the themes of the story.

In summary, it is evident from the above argumentation that Baldwin uses the blue in the development of his narrative. The blues element can be seen from the structure, the contents, elaboration of themes such as individualism and the use of jazz reference in the final sections of the story. Despite the opposing views, it is clear from the narrative that the author based his story on the blues. This is a common genre used by African Americans to express their problems in the community.

Role Of Music In Sonny’s Blues

Music plays an integral role in the development of social theory and understanding of identity. Sonny’s Blues incorporates the idea of music to help define the characters and establish a better understanding of the sociopolitical reality and culture of Harlem. The rather turbulent relationship between the two brothers becomes apparent early on as Sonny yearns to translate his passion for music into a careera decision his brother struggles with accepting.

The two brothers have different visions of life, which, in turn forces them to continually have contrasting views. Sonny struggles to be heard especially by his brother however it is through music that Sonny is able to express that which could not be articulated in the verbal language and continually communicates his reality through the medium of jazz.

The pain and suffering Sonny endures can be witnessed through the character’s adoration of Charlie Parker, a jazz musician who himself died at an early age as a result of drug addiction. We see the parallel between the character and Charlie Parker who at the end of the short story plays his music in front of his brother. The narrator finally listens to his brother Sonny play, revealing the raw essence of his reality which in turn brings the brothers closer and provides both understanding and acceptance of the other in a previously strained relationship. Music served as Sonny’s salvation and allowed for the two brothers to open a respectful and understanding dialogue. The narrator’s understanding can be further demonstrated when he says, Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others, indicating that he had now accepted Sony’s music and no longer undervalued the meaning it holds.

Sonny’s Blues is a story about suffering and triumph which play a fundamental role in the development of identity. Each experience served as a chance for salvation and an opportunity for the brothers to make sense of the cruelty of life. Through communication the two brothers are able to achieve a form of salvation by articulating that which seemed impossible. Through listening the two brothers are able to achieve a sense of freedom from the despair that fuels their reality. Music acts as the underlying method of communication for Sonny allowing the character to express his internal struggles that his brother ultimately understands.

Baldwin ultimately believes that true sympathy is shown not by trying to change an individual’s lifestyle or personality but to support the individual and remain at their side. True compassion does not stem from agreeing with an individual’s perspective but rather results from a meaningful attempt to understand the perspective of others that leads to genuine regard for one another. Perhaps this was the message Baldwin attempted to illustrate in Sonny’s Blues, that in order to function as individual’s in a rather austere environment it is paramount to communicate and listen, for that is what will ultimately free us.

Family Dilemma In Sonny’s Blues

Sonny’s Blues is a story written by James Baldwin about two brothers living in Harlem. The story starts when the narrator learns about his brother’s imprisonment through a newspaper. His brother Sonny was caught using and selling heroin.

The narrator remembers his brother when he was young which makes him realize that his students may suffer the same fate. While in prison the narrator does not communicate with his younger brother until the death of his daughter. The two then remain in constant communication until Sonny leaves prison. Sonny then goes to live with the narrator. The narrator then remembers his childhood. He also remembers taking care of Sonny after their mother died. Their relationship is complicated as they disagree on Sonny’s path in life. In the end, the narrator understands Sonny’s struggles as he watches him on stage playing jazz. The primary dilemma facing the main character is if he whether to relate with his brother based on his own values or to respect his brother’s perspective of life. This dilemma is related to the central theme of barriers in life caused by societal factors. At the beginning the protagonist decides to follow a paternalistic approach towards his brother which causes him conflict, he then chooses to listen to his brother after realizing that their environment was not conducive for success.

The main character is the narrator of the story since the entire tale is about the life in Harlem and the actions of Sonny through his view and perspective. The narrator’s conflict involves raising his own brother so that he can be a great man. This conflict starts immediately he is forced into parenthood at an early age. While he is in the military, the narrator is told by his mother to take care of his brother after she dies. His mother insists that he should not leave his brother no matter what happens to him (Baldwin 108). He ignores her pleas as he believes that nothing wrong will happen. However, his mother dies while he still in the military. The main character begins to experience conflict as he does not know how to parent his younger sibling. Until this point, his interaction with his brother has been minimal. He even realizes that he has not been playing the role of a big brother effectively.
The dilemma in the story is seen as the narrator is expected to make critical decisions about his brother’s life. One crucial decision that the main character is supposed to make is about the career of Sonny. Sonny expresses his interest in being a jazz musician. The narrator, on the other hand, is influenced by the expectations of the society and his idea about how life should be. He believes that it is important for a person to finish high school first then he or she can proceed to follow his dreams. He also believes that a person needs to go to college. The narrator also prefers careers that look more serious. He then decides to persuade Sonny to finish high school first a decision that he is not sure of (Baldwin 112).

The story shows that the narrator had a conflict with the decision he had made about the direction that Sonny should take. This is evident in the description of Sonny’s life after his brother had returned to the military. Sonny was forced to live with his sister in law and her parents. At their house, Sonny was serious about his music and practiced the piano every day. He played the instrument immediately he came from school. Sonny also played the piano after dinner until everyone had gone to sleep. He also spent the weekends with the piano (Baldwin 112). This shows that Sonny was serious about his plans and willing to do anything to achieve his dream.

The narrator, however, kept on using his values to judge his brother. This continued even after Sonny had stopped living with his sister in law and had joined the navy. It is expected that the protagonist would allow Sonny who is now an adult to make his own decisions. He, however, continues to disagree with his brother. The main character explains that he does not like Sonny’s friends and his music career. He believes the music is an excuse to live an irresponsible life. Eventually, they have a serious fight, and Sonny tells the narrator that he should consider him dead (Baldwin 113).

The author begins to doubt his methods of raising his brother as he fears that he is responsible for how his brother has turned. While his mother was alive, she put pressure on him by telling by telling the story of his father. His father’s brother who was hit by a vehicle and died immediately. This experience affected his father, and he never recovered (Baldwin 107). The main character remembers this story as his brother had become a drug addict. He feels as if he should have done better. The perception of failure by the main character is also seen as he describes his feeling after finding out that his brother was sentenced to prison. He compares his mood to a block of ice that is melting and also expanding in his stomach causing him pain. The narrator feels this way because he did not expect his brother to turn out the way he did. Sonny was once a young boy full of promise (Baldwin 99).

The prison sentence adds more conflict on how he can integrate Sonny back to the society. He is worried that bringing him back home would lead to relapse since the area is the same environment which pushed Sonny to use drugs (Baldwin 105). This serves as the climax of the story as the author begins to focus on a different approach to their relationship. He starts to listen to Sonny so that he can understand his perspective and why he made the wrong choices. Sonny opens up and explains how the frustrations in life pushed him to drugs and a reckless lifestyle. The main character also accepts to go to Sonny’s performance. Watching Sonny sing makes the narrator understand his brother’s struggles and feel that they could repair their relationship (Baldwin 121).

The primary dilemma of the protagonist is related to the central theme which is the impact of societal factors on the success of the individuals. Throughout the story, the narrator shows the influence of Harlem on his brother’s behavior and their frustrations. He explains that it is normal for people living in the area to turn to criminals as they grow older. He attributes these frustrations to the lack of opportunities in the neighborhood. He provides an example of his students whose growth is likely to be stopped suddenly due to the low ceiling that is placed on their abilities (Baldwin 99).

The protagonist also explains that the neighborhood has a permanent impact on someone’s life. He demonstrates that it is impossible to leave Harlem. If a person manages to get out, he has to leave a part of himself (Baldwin 105). This statement is evident as both Sonny and the narrator continue to live in the neighborhood several years later. Here the story shows that even though people take different paths in life, the outcome might still be the same due to the environmental factors. The protagonist’s dilemma could not be resolved at first since he believed that he could change the outcomes of their lives by following a different path. However, the central theme shows that he had to accept his brother first and accept the challenges that they both face.

In conclusion, the primary dilemma facing the main character is if he whether to relate with his brother based on his own values or to respect his brother’s perspective of life. At first, he forces Sonny to go to school and abandon music. This, however, fails as Sonny rebels and later on starts using drugs. Sonny is then sent to prison. The main character begins to believe that he is the cause of Sonny’s failure. Later on, he starts listening to Sonny, and they improve their relationship. The protagonist’s primary dilemma is related to the central theme since it is evident that environmental factors beyond their control cause the failures of the main narrator and Sonny.

A Story Of Sonny In Sonny’s Blues

The anonymous storyteller of the story finds from a daily paper that his more youthful sibling, Sonny, has been captured for offering and utilizing heroin. The storyteller recalls Sonny as a young man as he teaches his students and recalls that his students, could one way or another end up like Sonny, given the impediments and hardships they confront in Harlem. Toward the end of the school day, the storyteller heads home, however he sees that one of Sonny’s old companions, who is in every case high and grimy, is sitting tight for him by the school.

The two men walk together, discussing Sonny. The storyteller at the same time abhors and feels sorry for Sonny’s companion, who, regardless of his issues, makes it horrendously obvious to the storyteller exactly how troublesome Sonny’s medication dependent life has been.

Time passes, however the storyteller never keeps in touch with Sonny in jail until the storyteller’s young little girl, Grace, is deceased. The storyteller is kept in Harlem and is caught inside himself, unfit to express his feelings or satisfy his commitments as a sibling until the point that his daughters passing gives him the inspiration he needs to change. Sonny composes a long letter back to his sibling in which he endeavors to clarify how he wound up where he is. The two siblings at that point remain in steady correspondence. At the point when Sonny escapes imprison, the storyteller is there for him. Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light. The narrator, admits that he never really knew his child sibling, despite the fact that he can see hints of him covered underneath the haziness of jail life and medication compulsion. It’s a difficult acknowledgment, one that he is compelled to stand up to now that Sonny has progressed toward becoming, somewhat, his obligation. Another reason the narrator took in his brother was because of the promise he made his mother. His mother told him that when his father was younger, he watched his own brother get ran over by a car full of white men who never bothered to stop.

While living with his sister-in-law, Sonny begins playing hooky in school and confesses to investing all his energy in Greenwich Village, hanging out with artists. The two battled, and Sonny acknowledged that he felt like a burden to the family. A couple days later Sonny joined the naval force. The narrator didn’t know whether Sonny was in any condition until the point when he got a postcard from Greece. After the war, the two siblings came back to New York, yet they didn’t see each other for a long while. When they in the end met, they quarreled over Sonny’s choices throughout everyday life.Light and darkness are in steady strain all through “Sonny’s Blues,” and Baldwin utilizes them to feature the glow, expectation, anguish, and gloom that check his characters’ lives. After one particularly troublesome battle, Sonny told his sibling that he could think of him as dead starting there on. The storyteller left, disclosing to himself that one day Sonny would require his assistance. The flashback closes there. Subsequent to having Sonny live with him for half a month, the storyteller discusses whether he should look through Sonny’s room. As he paces forward and backward, he sees a road corner restoration happening outside his window and contemplates its importance.

In the long run Sonny returns home and welcomes his sibling to watch him perform later that night. The two siblings go to a little jazz club where everybody knows and regards Sonny. Sonny and the band get in front of an audience and play, and as they play, the storyteller watches Sonny battle with the music. The narrator portrays a glass sitting over Sonny’s piano as shaking “like the plain measure of trembling” to feature what a troublesome and convoluted position Sonny is in. This picture is acquired from the Bible, where the measure of trembling is utilized as an image to portray the agony and dread that have tormented the general population. The scriptural entry guarantees a help from that misery, yet Baldwin’s utilization of the measure of trembling as an image is less plain. Sonny’s drinking from the measure of trembling fills in as an indication of all the misery he has continued, while likewise offering the shot for recovery and peace.He observes all his sibling’s battles come spilling out as he plays, and at exactly that point does he at last acknowledge sonny’s identity and what he’s made of.

An Importance Of Jazz In Sonny’s Blues

In the mid-1900s , Harlem, New York was a city of segregation and limited rights of the African American people. Following the devastation that came with the Great Depression, riots began to bloom amongst black communities experiencing the pressure of high rents, unemployment and racist practices(History of Harlem 6). Throughout all of this suffering experienced by the African American culture, music played a major role in their attempt to cope.

In James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues jazz music is revealed to be the one thing that keeps the African American culture thriving. This is emphasized in the story through the characters actions which prove the only cure to their external and internal conflicts is music, therefore it becomes an inseparable part of their culture. Sonny’s blues begins in medias res when the narrator discovers his brothers arrest in the newspaper. He explains his face as trapped in the darkness which roared outside(Baldwin 1). With this quote it can be inferred that the narrator is undergoing and an internal conflict and an external conflict simultaneously.

The first mention of music in Sonny’s Blues was when Baldwin wrote One boy was whistling a tune, at once very complicated and very simple, it seemed to be pouring out of him like a bird(Baldwin 7). This extract begins to demonstrate the essential idea of the story, that jazz music is portrayed as an inseparable aspect of the African American community. This is done by comparing the boy who is whistling to an animal in which whistles as an everyday routine. This comparison defines the fact that it is almost necessary that this boy whistles to get through his day and to keep moving. . In this particular quote, the boy can be viewed as a representation of the black community as a whole, symbolizing the rhythm of their music is the rhythm of their lives. Later in the story, there was another mention of whistling in a flashback of when the narrator got into a fight with his brother Sonny. Baldwin writes I started down the steps, whistling to keep from crying, I kept on whistling to myself, You going to need me, baby, one of these cold, rainy days(Baldwin 176).This cite is another way of explaining how whistling is a way for the culture to keep their mood up. Therefore, these two quotes can be portrayed as examples of music being a breakthrough from the everyday suffering experienced by the African American people.

The second encounter with music was when the narrator was having a tough conversation about his brother Sonny with someone they grew up with. As the old friend was telling the narrator ain’t nothing you can do. Can’t much help old Sonny no more, I guess (Baldwin 19) as they stopped in front of a bar. The narrator explains how The jukebox was blasting away with something black and bouncy and I half watched as the barmaid danced her way from the jukebox to her place behind the bar(Baldwin 25). This cite continues to highlight the main idea that jazz music is the cure to conflict for the African American culture by showing that it persists throughout the narrators and characters days. This passage is an adumbration that music is a way to keep going throughout the day by explaining how the barmaid dances while working.

As the story continues a sign that music holds a meaningful place in Sonny’s sole is when he tells his brother, the narrator, that he is interested in becoming a jazz musician. This is shortly after their mother has passed away which resembles this idea as a coping mechanism for Sonny. Sonny then stays with the narrator’s wife while the narrator is away at war and plays the piano every single day. The story reads I sensed, from so many thousands of miles away, that Sonny was playing the piano for his life(Baldwin 171). This reveals that playing the piano for Sonny was a way to relive the weight of his suffering off of his shoulders. Sonny was truly playing to stay alive. To investigate this idea further, it can be proven that the suffering of African Americans dates back to slavery. The beginning of an age of jazz music was when blues music was evolving across the country out of the traditional African slave spirituals, work calls and chants(20th Century Music 3). These chants were a way for the African American slaves to keep their spirits up as they were brutally forced to work long labor hours with no breaks and no pay. The chants symbolized that throughout all of this suffering it was mandatory to keep moving and progressing. The chants also served as the one thing that the culture had true to them and the single thing that they had complete control over in a world in which their freedom was seized from them.

Baldwin continues to express the importance of jazz music as a way for the African American culture to persevere through their hardships. He expresses this necessity through a conversation between the narrator and Sonny when the narrator asks if Sonny needs to use heroin and drugs to play the blues. Sonny answers by saying how Sometimes. Some people do(Baldwin 199). He continues with It’s not so much to play. It’s to stand it, to be able to make it at all. On any level. In order to keep from shaking to pieces (Baldwin 203). Here Sonny expresses that he is in a vulnerable position when he plays the blues because he is putting his sorrows out in the open. A common reason for this drug use can be interpreted when Youth Health Talk states how some people sometimes use drugs or alcohol to escape from their home, or personal, problems(Youth Health Talk 2015). This further illustrates how the use of drugs while performing is another acknowledgment of the pain felt by the black community of Harlem, New York.

To continue the essential idea of jazz music holding a vital importance in the African American culture, later in Sonny’s Blues Sonny shows signs of pursuing his teenage goal of becoming a jazz musician by playing at a nightclub. The passage reads Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about(Baldwin 248). This passage serves as a final representation of how jazz music plays such an important role in the African American culture. This extract justifies how their music is the music of suffering. The suffering that had created many conflicts that this culture had to undergo through many generations. Their only breath of relief was by telling their stories through the music they created.

In summary, James Baldwin’s short story, Sonny’s Blues highlights the idea that jazz music is an inseparable part of the African American culture because it is a way for its people to express themselves and their suffering through their own unique language. The story’s narrator and main characters represent this idea by shining a light on the importance of jazz music is a way to keep moving and keep living despite their many hardships.

A Child’s Overture: Suffering in Sonny’s Blues

Humans are made of the tangible; flesh and blood, muscles and bones, cells and nerves. The survival of man can be dissected into the purely scientific, the emotionless, the artless. The value of the anatomical can clearly not be understated, as such is the basest foundation of existence. However, when unaccompanied by that which offers grace and solace, joy and purpose, and, above all else, love and understanding, this foundation grants only that: existence. A limp, dispassionate meandering through life at it’s most stripped bare is a weak prospect, and yet it is the only one facing the character of Sonny in James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues, should he follow in the wake of his older brother.

While there are those who condemn Sonny’s drug use as an exemplification of pathetic weakness, it is much more than that; it is the overture of a child in the dark, grasping at a flicker of light which he knows to be false, but he grasps at anyway because he so desperately needs something to clutch in his otherwise empty fist. Sonny is not the same as his older brother; his soul is not the same. Sonny has an artist’s soul, an artist’s suffering. Baldwin delineates Sonny as a character who does not have an alternative to drugs, as a tragic hero with an artist’s soul, by means of Sonny’s suffering and his home.

Throughout Sonny’s Blues, Baldwin illustrates the notion of suffering as hovering inescapably above all of his characters; each one suffers in some way – from grief, from poverty, from addiction, from limited opportunities in life. All of the characters certainly experience agony, but none of them experience salvation, though they all look for it in their own ways. Sonny’s brother does so by starting a family, having a career, and creating a home. However, despite the unequivocal worth of such, none of this offers the brother salvation; he still lives in a Harlem housing project that makes him wonder as he brings Sonny home if he is “simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape” (Baldwin 840). He, whom is not stranded in the thrashing sea of addiction, is not free. He makes the decisions that he believes are best for him, and it is easy to look upon these choices and wonder why Sonny does not make them as well, why he chooses heroin. Sonny and his brother are not the same, their suffering and their souls are too different, and they necessitate different means of coping. “Heroin…when it [is] in [the] veins…makes [one] feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant…and sure…it makes [one] feel in control…it [is] to stand it, to be able to make it at all. On any level…in order to keep from shaking to pieces” (853-854). This is the sensation Sonny is addicted to, the only weak semblance of solace he finds. The tragic irony is that Sonny finds this facade of consolation in music, his passion, but a passion tainted by vice. This only perpetuates his suffering.

In Sonny’s Blues, Baldwin closely links the themes of suffering and the home. The home is a physical place in Sonny’s Blues, but it is also an idea. It is a place to escape from, a place to return to, a place with both horrible and wonderful memories. Home is comfort, conflict, grief, suffering, and caring all combined. It is an apartment and it is a nightclub. Its residents are both actual and created family. Home is literal but it is also symbolic, since in many ways home is simply the feeling that one belongs. The nightclub where Sonny plays the piano is “his kingdom. Here, it [is] not even a question that his veins bore royal blood” (860). The nightclub is truly Sonny’s “home” now. He is comfortable here, in his element. He has created a home for himself outside of the place where he sleeps and eats, where he is accepted and admired, and that transforms the nightclub from a den of music and vice and the manifestations of an artist’s soul into Sonny’s home. However, this is a home shared with fellow addicts, people who get high to play music, who are inherently inviting of more suffering at the hands of addiction. Outside of this home, “the world wait[s] outside, as hungry as a tiger, and…trouble stretch[es] above [them], longer than the sky” (863). Nonetheless, this home gives Sonny a genuine feeling of peace, with himself and the world, however temporary. Its music gives him tranquility, and, despite all of his suffering, it also paradoxically holds the ability to help Sonny overcome his addiction. One of the many tragedies of Sonny is that his home offers him no real guarantees; like all homes it can both wound and heal, but to a possibly fatal extent when the wounding is done by addicts and heroin.

Throughout Sonny’s Blues, Baldwin works to establish suffering as intrinsic to human life. He states that all people approach their pain and suffering in their own ways, that there is no given formula for addressing grievance. The character of Sonny resorts to heroin in an attempt to soothe his internal poison, but the devastating result is the agony of addiction, for both himself and those that love him. Despite this, Sonny works to overcome his tribulations, particularly through his created home, the place of his music and like-minded friends-turned-kin. This determination to surmount his addiction, always while being fully aware of his pain, makes Sonny into a tragic hero, attempting to live honestly according to a soul that is all his own, not his brother’s; the soul of an artist.

Redemption in “Sonny’s Blues”

James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is a tale of suffering. Placed in an environment that is “encircled by disaster” (Baldwin 1615), the narrator constantly attempts to escape from the suffering around him. He avoids all contact with those around him and becomes disconnected from who he truly is. However, it is through his brother, Sonny, that the narrator realizes that running from his troubles and those closest to him is not the answer. Sonny’s ability to channel his suffering through his music portrays Baldwin’s central message, that only by finding meaning in suffering can one can truly live.

Nearly every negative aspect of the narrator’s life seems to come from the environment around him – specifically the evils of racial segregation that plague Harlem. Although the narrator believes to have escaped from his upbringing by getting an education, he also acknowledges that he “left something… behind” (1615). The narrator’s loss can be seen in the monotony of his daily life. He does not believe that his job as a high school teacher makes any impact on the racially biased social system of the day, that his students are “growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities” (1610). Sonny has also lost a part of himself to his drug addiction, but Sonny’s letter to his brother reveals that he feels as though his experience with addiction has taught him something and given him purpose. It is here that the reader can see the irony of the brothers’ story. The narrator has worked hard to gain his education but has suffered without finding meaning in his life. It is Sonny, the drug addicted brother, who is able to find meaning and help to end the narrator’s suffering.

The narrator’s suffering is directly paralleled by that of his father. The narrator’s mother warns him, saying “don’t let [Sonny] fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him” (1618). Although the narrator “caught [Sonny] just before he fell when he took the first steps he ever took in this world” (1614), he has failed to help his brother since the death of their parents. Likewise, the narrator’s father suffered after helplessly witnessing the death of his brother. The narrator seems just as helpless shortly after learning of Sonny’s heroin use; by fleeing from his suffering the narrator has disconnected with those who should be closest, including his brother. Additionally, the narrator has also recently lost a close family member, his daughter. These examples make it clear that the way to end the narrator’s suffering is through helping Sonny and reconnecting with those closest to him.

Sonny’s suffering revolves around his heroin addiction. However, this seems to be a direct result of the narrator’s lack of presence in Sonny’s life. The narrator himself seems to be aware of this, as he states: “I had a lot of things on my mind and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on a special furlough for her funeral” (1618). However, Sonny continues to suffer while the narrator is away, dropping out of school and beginning his addiction to heroin while the narrator is overseas. Sonny is eventually able to channel is suffering through his music, but originally this is against the wishes of his brother. The narrator is reluctant to support Sonny’s decision at first, instead he believes that music is “beneath [Sonny], somehow” (1619). While the narrator attempts to help Sonny by encouraging him to conform to a life of education as the narrator has, he ignores what Sonny believes to be his life’s calling. Later in the story, music will serve as the vessel to free both Sonny and the narrator from their suffering.

The instances of music in “Sonny’s Blues” always seem to calm an otherwise turbulent situation. While the narrator is sitting in a classroom in the beginning of the story, he describes the whistling of a student as uplifting. The turning point of the story is accompanied by an occurrence of music. During a revival meeting, the narrator notices that “the music seemed to soothe a poison out of them; and time seemed, nearly, to fall away from the sullen, belligerent, battered faces, as though they were fleeing back to their first condition, while dreaming of their last” (1624). It is only after Sonny points out that the singer at the revival meeting had to suffer in order to give meaning to the listeners that the narrator realizes the futility of attempted to fully escape from suffering. At this point he “had held silence-for so long!-when [Sonny] had needed human speech to help him” (1626). The final occurrence of music takes place at the end of the story, and it makes the narrator realize that “while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness” (1629-1630). It is at this point that the narrator realizes that a person must have meaning in order to live.

James Baldwin uses “Sonny’s Blues” to describe an optimistic philosophy in what seems like a profoundly pessimistic story. The main purpose of the nameless narrator may be to suggest that his story does not have a name; stories like this one are repeated throughout the world. Throughout the story, characters struggle to escape from what they believe to be their meaningless suffering. However, it is through their attempts at escape that the real damage is done. By attempting to escape from the environment around him, the narrator escapes from those that are most important to them and nearly guarantees that he will find no meaning in his life. Only by witnessing his brother’s self-expression can the narrator find meaning and truly live.

Darkness and Light in “Sonny’s Blues”

In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” the abundance of darkness reveals the beauty of light. Despite how uncomfortable and painful it is to be in the dark, the main character, Sonny empowers himself by stepping into the light and incorporating his dark experiences into his passion of music. The darkness represents the destitution that is faced everyday on the harsh streets of Harlem. These streets are ridden with the reality of drugs and crime and these wrongdoings are almost impossible for adolescents to break away from. Sonny, a struggling jazz musician, finds himself to be a victim to the streets of Harlem. He finds that heroin is the only way he can express his artistic and creative potential while shying away from reality. However, his experience with darkness led him to the light. Sonny attempts to step in the light when he rejects drugs from his life to advance his passion for jazz music. Light and darkness are deliberate metaphors used by Baldwin to convey the message of truth and reality, as well as the hardships of adversity. In the beginning of the story, the narrator symbolizes darkness with a negative connotation when he mentions “the swinging light of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside”(43). This reference is significant because it is a contrast to the dismal society that the narrator and his brother Sonny live in. The darkness is the portrayal of the community of Harlem that is trapped in their surroundings by physical, economic, and social barriers. The obvious nature of darkness has overcome the occupants of the Harlem community. The narrator, an algebra teacher, observes a depressing similarity between his students and his brother Sonny. This is true because the narrator is fearful for his students falling into a life of crime and drugs, as did his brother. The narrator notes that the cruel realities of the streets have taken away the possible light from the lives of his brother and his students. An insightful connection is made by the narrator between the darkness that Sonny faced and the darkness that the young boys are presently facing. This is illustrated when the narrator expresses: These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darkness’s, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone. (44) The passage demonstrates how darkness has overcome the lives of the children without them realizing it. The darkness also represents the lack of opportunity available to them. The young boys live in a dark reality where they do not know and are not familiar with light, and therefore do not have anything to look forward to.The motif of light and darkness is also demonstrated when the narrator recalls his and Sonny’s childhood and gives examples regarding his recollection of his family on Sunday evenings. The narrator makes several points in regard to the silence in the room and “the darkness growing against the windowpanes”(49). He states that the darkness that is outside is where the older generation of his family comes from and what they bear. He recalls the children sitting on the mother’s lap and he points out that:The silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces frighten the child obscurely. He hopes that the hand which strokes his forehead will never stop—will never die. But something deep and watchful in the child knows that this is bound to end, is already ending. And when the light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness.(50) In this quote, the narrator is showing that with the light comes knowledge of the world for the child. The light is bleak and not always encouraging. When the child exposes himself to the world he loses part of his innocence and childhood. Therefore, the child may wish to remain in the darkness. The darkness in this specific excerpt is personified as a slow and gentle relief. The narrator attempts to convey the concept that darkness, which in reality means nothing without any light to illuminate it; this is because the light makes one aware of the dark, and therefore comprehend reality. The pain that Sonny undergoes is only satisfied when he is playing his music, and it is through this that the narrator accepts Sonny as a person and as a musician. Acceptance of Sonny’s profession is extremely difficult for the narrator because he has always associated Sonny’s music with darkness and drugs. Nevertheless, the darkness of the night in the jazz club illustrates the complication and wonder of jazz to the narrator. In the jazz club, there is a struggle with light and darkness. This is exemplified when Sonny and the rest of the musicians wait to go on stage and the narrator notices: The light from the bandstand spilled just a little short of them and, watching them laughing and gesturing and moving about, I had the feeling that they, nevertheless, were being most careful not to step into the circle of light too suddenly; that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in flame. (61) The passage suggests that to embrace the truth and gain conscious awareness too quickly is painful and devastating. Unfortunately for Sonny and the rest of the musicians, the fear of something new, regardless of how pleasant it could be, was too uncomfortable to take advantage of at this point.At the end of the story Sonny is finally able to step in the light and genuinely feel his passion for music. Although the narrator had been objectionable to Sonny’s music earlier on, he finally appreciated Sonny’s way of expression at the end of the story when he listens to Sonny play:I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did. Yet, there was no battle in his face now. I heard what he had gone through and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth.(63)When the narrator listens to Sonny’s music, he is able to share the freedom and reality which connects them in the light.Everyone has daily struggles in life, however, the manner by which different people approach them determines whether the individual would be able to shine in the light. Within the consciousness of reality that is obvious throughout this story, there are instances of peace and hope, which make the darkness in life worth living. The two brothers attempt to repair the void that has been left in their lives and are surrounded by a world full of shadows and light. Jointly, they face the unavoidable darkness that had overwhelmed their lives. Using music as a form of communication, the brothers are able to overcome their differences and create order in their chaotic life. The painful realization of the truth enables them to redirect their lives and rebuild a relationship. If the brothers would have not experienced the darkness together, they would have never shared the beauty in the light.

Black Masculinity As Constructed Through Baldwin

James Baldwin provides several constructions of black masculinity through his two texts Everybody’s Protest Novel and Sonny’s Blues. Since this essay is comparing works from the same author, it is essential to look at what these constructions are and also the consistency of them within his work. For the purpose of viewing black masculinity as a construct, Everybody’s Protest Novel serves as the basis for which this construct is viewed in the two main characters of Sonny’s Blues. Through this analysis, Baldwin will be held up to the standard of his own work – a standard which he has created for himself. The way that Baldwin constructs the characters of Sonny’s Blues is contingent upon his discussion of “the protest novel” and also how he constructs the differences between true images of the Negro and the falsely constructed images in texts such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Sonny and the narrator are depictions of the ideal and faltering constructions of black masculinity in Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues.Everybody’s Protest Novel is a criticism of the portrayal of the Negro in literature. Baldwin uses the behavior of the black characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as examples of the ways that black masculinity is portrayed. Tom is the character that Baldwin criticizes the most, stating that Tom is a product of white America. He is content in the image of blackness that America has created for him. Tom is comfortable in his complacency and thereby seen as siding with his white oppressor. To this character of “Uncle Tom”, Baldwin pairs the narrator of his story, Sonny’s Blues.The first impression of a black male given in Sonny’s Blues is of the narrator. At a glance, it appears he is living the American Dream. He is a quiet-as-kept high-school teacher who has followed the ‘straight’ path in life. He helped his mother with her responsibilities and acted as a father figure to Sonny, joined the military, educated himself, married, and had children. In the latter ways, these descriptions resemble the archetypal image of the (white) American Dream. The narrator is disconnected from black culture and portrayed as feeding into the system in an attempt to live a ‘cookie-cutter’ life. The narrator even admits his disconnection in a conversation he and Sonny have about a jazz musician: ‘Well look Sonny, I’m sorry, don’t get mad… Name somebody – you know, a jazz musician you admire.’ ‘Bird.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Bird! Charlie Parker! Don’t they teach you nothing in the goddamn army?’ I lit a cigarette. I was surprised and then a little amused to discover that I was trembling. ‘I’ve been out of touch….'” (Baldwin 1738) Baldwin uses this revelation as a turning point for the narrator to move towards becoming ‘in touch’ and more representative of a Negro in American culture verses the American outside of Negro culture he has formerly been. A second point to note is that the narrator does not have a name. It is probable that Baldwin uses this as a ploy to further his idea of this faulty construction of masculinity. What better way to discredit a character than to take away his identity as Baldwin does? The realization that the narrator is forced into is constructed through Sonny. It carries the message that the American Dream is unobtainable to the black man, and is essential to our understanding of Baldwin’s construction of black masculinity. It is here that the character of Sonny becomes instrumental in shaping the role of black masculinity and the way that it should be constructed to achieve truth and righteousness as a black man.In opposition to the any of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Sonny is Baldwin’s example of how the true black man should be represented in protest literature. At first, Sonny is seen as a drifter, an addict trying to escape his destruction. This point is in compliance with Baldwin’s idea that “The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being….” (Baldwin 1705). In order to exemplify Baldwin’s ideal of a real black man, Sonny has to endure real strife. As a result, he embraces life and is made true through his relatedness to a real human with faults. Soon Sonny becomes the focal point of the story as his struggle to do what is right emerges. In his encounters with the narrator (his brother), Sonny quickly becomes Baldwin’s example of what black masculinity should entail. In his decision to pursue his music, Sonny embodies Baldwin’s definition of truth with relation to blackness as seen in Everybody’s Protest Novel, “…[T]ruth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment; freedom which cannot be legislated, fulfillment which cannot be charted,” (Baldwin 1700). To put this definition into the context of Sonny, he does what makes him happy, rather that what he feels he is supposed to (as mandated by the American Dream which excludes black identity). Through the development of Everybody’s Protest Novel and Sonny’s Blues Baldwin uses the “Uncle Tom”-like character of the narrator to set an example of the misinterpretation of black masculinity. The narrator depicts every aspect that Baldwin protests and for this reason, he uses the character of Sonny to rectify the ideals of true black masculinity. Baldwin creates this dichotomy between the narrator and Sonny to show the ideal form of black masculinity. While the narrator is trying to obtain the unobtainable, Sonny is just trying to maintain. And maintaining, in Baldwin’s view, is what black identity, and ultimately masculinity, is all about.