Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin: Character, Imagery, Theme, and Point of View
In writing, authors use several literary elements to convey the message they intend for their audiences. On this paper, a literary analysis for Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin will be the main focus. To help in the course of this study, some literary elements such as theme, character, plot, figurative language, imagery, and point of view will be analyzed in detail.
The literature work majorly focuses on Sonny, who is the main character, and Sonny’s brother. The literary element Character can be categorized into two; a protagonist character and an antagonistic character.
In James Baldwin’s short story Sonny’s Blues set up in New York City shortly after World War II, Sonny can be viewed as the multilayered protagonist character. The story is based on a character who is aspiring to become a jazz musician. The character overcomes an addiction to heroin and racism in the institutions to fulfill his dreams of becoming a jazz pianist.
At the start of the short story, the reader is informed that Sonny’s addiction to drugs will force the character to go through a prison sentence. Another barrier that Sonny faces is that of poor education. All these factors must be overcome for the main goal to be achieved. In this short story, Baldwin was able to create a very flawed and yet likable main character. Sonny can be seen as a decent young individual who is only held back by the circumstances and lack of opportunity. The readers are found wishing success despite the character’s poor education and society’s limits of the Black American. The success is attained as after Sonny is done with the prison sentence; the character is now seen focusing on the set goal.
Baldwin uses imagery to create visual images of the setting of the plot and the characters’ behavior as well. Imagery assists readers in getting the exact theme the writer intended to be achieved so that the message is delivered successfully. The moment the two brothers (Sonny and Sonny’s brother) share a beer, the beer can be crushed by Sonny creates an image on the readers’ mind of the perspiration that is often present during the hot summers of New York City. When the author narrates on the death of Sonny’s uncles, the readers’ senses are triggered due to the gruesome murder. New York City is a representation of cultural and social diversity. The city is a direct comparison of chaos and struggles for oppressed people, and it may be right to say that if the story was based in another place, it would lose its underlying tension.
The main subject of Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin is not the state of poor education or drug addiction as many may claim. The main theme of the short story is discrimination and social injustice. The story constantly mentions the instance of ‘The War’ though not stating which war specifically, but in most cases might be the one which occurred in the 20th century (Baldwin 34). During that period, Black Americans were facing discrimination and social injustices due to their racial decedent. It is these two factors that cause Sonny to lack a good education and turn to heroin. It is also through these two factors that Sonny’s Uncle is run over by a white man and murdered, and no justice is taken. Discrimination and social injustice are clearly shown in the short story and assisted by other literary elements to bring out the theme.
Point of View
Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues uses point of view literary element to set the mode of the narration so that readers can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what was taking place in the story. ‘I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn’t believe it, I and I reread it. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story’ (Baldwin 54). From the moment the story is introduced, the readers are made aware that Sonny’s brother is in a state of disbelief and disappointing due to the action of Sonny. The reader is set to a sad mood due to that fact that there is a young man who is facing a prison sentence due to drug addiction.
The author of this short story has successfully incorporated the literary elements that assisted the readers in comprehending what was intended for them. The use of imagery, a point of view, and theme allow the readers to create vivid images of the scenes are can closely associate with the narration. The use of character and style allowed the author to create and maintain a sense of interest in the readers as they can interact with the author’s creations.
Utilization of Perspective in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin
‘Sonny’s Blues,’ is the account of two siblings attempting to comprehend each other. The story is told from the more established sibling’s eyes. He talks about the issue he confronted growing up with his sibling, detachment, and gathering. Baldwin intentionally picks to recount to the story in the primary individual perspective as a result of the omniscient and reasonable impacts it add to the story generally speaking. The mother, father, and Sonny all express their records to the more seasoned sibling, making him the ideal character to recount to the story. Furthermore, the main individual perspective enables the peruser to encounter the vicarious emotions that the sibling needs to confront. Moreover, the perspective is particular omniscient, which gives the sibling data on the present, past, and future allowing the peruser to all the more effectively comprehends the plot. Through the numerous records advised to the sibling, his first individual perspective, and particular omniscient, James Baldwin shows how perspective can give the peruser a more characterize and more clear comprehension of the story’s general significance.
The mother, father, and Sonny all offer their records and accounts of their lives through the more established sibling. This makes the more seasoned sibling ideal for giving the best situations of every occasion since he is the person who knows the most about his family. The sibling is the main individual other than his mom to think about the catastrophe that occurred between his dad and his uncle. The mother addresses the more seasoned sibling about his uncle since she needs him to oversee Sonny. ‘I ain’t disclosing to all of you this, to make you terrified or severe or to make you loathe no one. I’m revealing to you this since you got a sibling.’ (Baldwin 51) Because of the discussion, the sibling feels much increasingly answerable for Sonny’s activity and future. The sibling needs to assume the job of a dad and offers help and care for his more youthful sibling. This is huge to the story in such a case that Sonny has generally recounted to the story, this significant discussion would be absent. The sibling is the individual who has the most data about the family. His insight into his uncle’s record and discussion with his mom add to the general fulfillment of the story that would have been missing generally.
Asides from giving total data to the sibling, Baldwin decides to compose the story in the principal individual perspective since he needs the peruser to feel precisely as how the sibling is feeling. By having it told from the primary individual, the peruser could assemble a more grounded association with the character in the story. Baldwin recognizes to the peruser the distinction between of being recounted to a story and of encountering the story direct. The peruser sees the occasions through the sibling’s eyes, which makes the story progressively reasonable and convincing. For instance, when the sibling first finds about his uncle’s demise, he is stunned and stun at the mind blowing news. Baldwin shows this by expressing,’ I surmise I would not like to accept this.’ He finishes with, ‘Still, I couldn’t move.’ (51) If the statements were supplanted by ‘he’ rather than ‘I’, the story would lose its validity. The peruser will be less hesitant to accept the genuine feeling that the sibling is encountering. The main individual perspective interfaces character to the peruser, taking into account an increasingly complete comprehension of what’s going on.
Notwithstanding the main individual perspective, Baldwin additionally composes the story with the data of the past, present, and future. ‘Sonny’s Blues’ is composed after the sibling finds what befell his uncle, his discussion with his sibling, and his future gathering. The story isn’t dynamic but instead aggregate. The sibling has all the data and afterward he makes the story. By doing this, the peruser can comprehend the plot all the more totally. The peruser can perceive how the revelation of his uncle identifies with his consideration for his sibling. It additionally shows how the passing of Gracie drives the sibling to understanding the significance of family. ‘Furthermore, I didn’t compose Sonny or send him anything for quite a while. At the point when I at last did, it was soon after my daughter passed on.’ (Baldwin 46) Although the occasions occur during various time, Baldwin depicts the occasions as though occurring simultaneously. Thus, the sibling can stress more on the substance of the occasions and their relationship to each other, as opposed to their grouping or causality. This would be inconceivable and dulled if the sibling didn’t specific omniscient data of the past, present, and future.
Baldwin’s predominant utilization of perspective is a significant reason for the achievement of ‘Sonny’s Blues.’ By having the perspective as first individual, and having the fundamental omniscient character, the sibling recounts to the story, Baldwin totally brings the peruser into the story. The sibling has the total record of the considerable number of characters in the story. Perusing the story from his point of view concedes the peruser a more culmination of the story, which would somehow be inadequate. The principal individual perspective is additionally significant on the grounds that the peruser can consider things to be it occurs through the character’s eyes. The peruser can feel and experience the impacts of every occasion precisely as the character. Ultimately, the particular omniscient view furnishes the peruser with a progressively complete and comprehension of how one occasion identifies with each other. Through the dominance utilization of first individual perspective, Baldwin considers the peruser an increasingly characterized comprehension of ‘Sonny’s Blues.’
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
In “Sonny’s blue”, from the perspective of narrator, the fiction expresses his observations of the world and his thinking about life by describing Sonny’s experience. Also, the fiction depicts two very different lives by comparing the different experiences of narrator and Sonny and the different attitudes towards life. In the fiction, the narrator chose to compromise in order to gain the identity of the mainstream society and accepted the mainstream social values. And through his own efforts, he has lived a stable middle-class life. However, Sonny rebelled through rebellious actions such as drug abuse, thereby gaining inner peace. At this time, the two brothers have very different views on life, thus forming a huge difference. Through the article we can see the process of narrator’s inner struggle, from not understanding Sonny’s behavior to identification. In this paper, I will focus on whether the minority people in the United States need to compromise with mainstream values in the process of gaining mainstream social recognition.
From narrator’s experience, we can see that even if he succeeded in getting rid of his own neighborhood by his own efforts and lived a stable middle-class life, the problem of identity is still in his heart. In the fiction, he is a respected middle school teacher. In his growing community, he is one of the few to get rid of the chaotic environment and changed his own life. At the beginning of the fiction it says that “I was scared, scared for Sonny. He became real to me again. A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra.”
Narrator uses “ice” implies that he has been escaping from the reality in the past for long time which most of the African American still lived in restlessness, full of threats and suffering. The long-term stable life made him reluctant to face it all, so he frozen it all like ice and placed it in the deepest part of his heart. Faced with the great obstacles of bad growth environment and personal career development, he finally got rid of his growing environment through his own efforts and self-control. Not only in the geographical position, but also in the psychological aspect. As he described the young people on the street who look like Sonny. “even though he was a grown-up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corners, was always high and raggy. I used to run into him from time to time and he’d often work He always had some real good excuse, too, and I always gave it to him. I don’t know why.” (par.9) The narrator describes and comments on this young man from the perspective of an observer. He does not regard himself as a member of them. At a deeper level, he was not willing to go back to the identity he once tried to get rid of. However, Sonny’s news of being arrested for drug use made him have to go back to the cold reality, which there were still a lot of African American young people were struggling to live. He realized that he was one of the few African American who could successfully become a middle class. In fact, more African American will be defeated by reality and life will fall into darkness. They would break into the bottom of society and live an inferior and miserable life. We can say that his compromise and obedience in order to gain the identity of the mainstream society has made him successful. However, it has caused the inner heart to fall into a huge contradiction.
However, instead of accepting reality by obedience to mainstream society, Sonny chose a completely different path from his brother while facing the hard life. He chose to fight and surpass. After the mother’s funeral, the brothers had their first formal conversation. “What do you want to do?” I asked him. “I’m going to be a musician,” he said. “Well, you may think it’s funny now, baby, but it’s not going to be so funny when you have to make your living at it, let me tell you that.” I was furious because I knew he was laughing at me and I didn’t know why. (par.122) We can say this communication is a conversation between an inexperienced teenager and an experienced adult. This implies the contradiction between ideal and reality. Although his narrator is very concerned about his brother, he still does not agree with Sonny’s ideals. This is the first point of conflict that indicates their different attitudes towards life. It seems that Sonny is not understood by others. As narrator’s wife describe Sonny, “And the sound didn’t make any sense to her, didn’t make any sense to any of them—naturally. They began, in a way, to be afflicted by this presence that was living in their home. It was as though Sonny were some sort of god, or monster. He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all.” (par.170) He couldn’t find someone in life who could understand him and communicate with him. He believed that music was a hope in his life which could take him away from the miserable life and could let him find the peace in his inner mind. So, he closed himself in a world of his own to express resistance. It also implies that, in the context of the times, many dreams as a minority are not recognized by the mainstream society.
After this, Sonny experienced a lot of suffering, such as running away, joining the army, taking drugs, being arrested. This makes him more mature and has a deeper understanding of life. The next conversation happened after narrator’s little daughter died. “When she was singing before,” said Sonny, abruptly, “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes— when it’s in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant.” What Sonny trying to say was he could feel that woman’s pain through her singing, but narrator thought he just made excuses for his drug addiction. He thought everyone in the world can’t escape suffering. So, we just need to endure and accept it. However, Sonny believed that even though people couldn’t avoid suffering, we still could try our best to floating above the sea instead of being sink. (par.197) From this conversation, we can see a big difference of the attitude of the life between narrator and Sonny. Narrator is a passive person, he accepts everything in life, including suffering and obstacles. A big part of the reason for his passive attitude towards life is the last conversation with his mother. When she told him that some white men who drunk severely ran down the hillside on a speeding car and killed his uncle. “He says he never in his life seen anything as dark as that road after the lights of that car had gone away. Your Daddy never did really get right again. Till the day he died he weren’t sure but That every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother. I’m telling you this because you got a brother. And the world ain’t changed.” (par.102) His mother’s words had a big impact on him. This made him more cautious about the world. He protects himself by compromising the mainstream society. Also, he wants to protect his little brother in his way which he thinks is correct. As for Sonny, he is a relatively active person. He is more willing to make risks and changes to see if he can change the status of current situation. He believes that even though the world doesn’t change, he can still do something to change himself. Because he thinks the world is there, it is in his mind. That’s quiet a different view of world from his mother and brother. This is also the core reason for causing conflict. He hopes that his music can become a catharsis of people’s feelings. Also, he hopes to awaken his compatriots’ memory of suffering through his music, so that they can look directly into the misfortunes of life and become strong, instead of becoming numb.
At the end of the fiction, narrator listened to Sonny’s music and finally understood Sonny, the brothers reached a settlement. He gave a detailed description of Sonny’s performance. Expressing a sense of identity towards African American groups, by describing the popularity of Sonny. At the same time, he found the meaning of strength and survival in groups and African American traditional culture. Sonny’s music makes him feel very touched. Sonny’s music awakens the memory of his brother’s past sufferings, which was forgotten because his compromise to mainstream society. When he was listening, he said “I saw my mother’s face again, and felt, for the first time, how the Stones of the road she had walked on must have bruised her feet. I saw the Moonlit road where my father’s brother died. And it brought something else Back to me, and carried me past it, I saw my little girl again and felt Isabel’s Tears again, and I felt my own tears begin to rise.” (par.240) This made him feel reconnected with his family and race. Also, it gave him spiritual freedom and let him return to himself. In the end, the narrator gave a glass of wine to Sonny to suggest the final reconciliation between the brothers. The narrator finally understood the suffering of Sonny and his pursuit.
In conclusion, I think as a minority in American. The most important thing is keep your identity which in another word keep who you are. From the fiction we can see that even though narrator is recognized by the mainstream society, his inner struggle did not make him truly happy. When he finally regained his sense of identity with his own race, his soul has gained great satisfaction in the depths. It is so important to keep our identity because it could let us know the meaning of our lives. If you are in pursuit of mainstream social identity by compromising and abandon its own characteristics, that will make you lose your cultural roots. Like Sonny, we should keep ourselves and look at our own race and culture in a positive attitude.
Role of the Artist: Sonny’s Blues and Pleasantville
Artists have a huge task or making their works is interesting or educational. Baldwin on Sonny’s Blues and the Movie Pleasantville are no the exemption. The two artists have focused on the situations facing people in the contemporary society which has come out not only interesting but also educational.
The two pieces narrate the societal problems and how the characters are trying to fit in. In the short story, Sonny’s Blues, the artist, who is a teacher, explains the setting of the society he lives. He referees the students he is teaching to be the same to his brother Sonny, who was jailed for selling and using heroin. “He had been picked up, the evening before in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using heroin.” The problem is drugs and this problem not only affected Sonny’s life but even the students he is teaching. He views them not to have a bright future. The artist is trying to portray the bad sides of drugs and hence, aims at making the readers aware, not to get involved in drugs even if its use is rampant, for one to be successful. He even regrets the situation by saying, I’m glad Mama and Daddy are dead and can’t see what’s happened to their son.” He even advised his brother, “you’re getting to be a big boy, ‘it’s time you started thinking about your future. ‘I’m thinking about my future,’ said Sonny, grimly. ‘I think about it all the time.”
In the movie, Pleasantville, the two, twin brother and sister fight over a television. The brother, David, want to watch a 1959s TV show while the sister, Jenifer, socially-active wants to watch a concert on MTV. The two winds up trapped in a 1950s TV show- the show which is set in a small Midwest town. They would converse, Jennifer/Mary Sue, “So what’s the big deal? Oh. Okay – they’re like not good at basketball anymore. Ohmigawd, what a tragedy” David/Bud, “You don’t understand. You’re messing with their whole goddamn universe! Here, the residents are seemingly perfect. The two attempts to fit in, and from this, they become more aware of social issues like racism and freedom of speech. They would converse, David “They’re happy like this.” Jennifer, “No, David. Nobody’s happy in a poodle skirt and a sweater set.” The artist here also uses the characters fight to take them back in the olden days to realize problems such as racism and freedom of speech in the society. The role of the artist in coping with the problem is the society, in this case, is to use the character David, to come to reality and understand the current world, the world he lives in, which is his major message to many people who are not aware of the current societal problems. In regards to the message, the two artists have played the similar role- identifying the problems in the society, its effects and how it can be solved.
Another similarity in the two works is the influence the society has on people. Both works narrate the situations derived from the influence of given deeds or settings. For instance, in the short story, Sonny’s Blues, many youths are using and selling drugs. It is seemingly a way of life which is influenced by the setting of the society. Many youths are practicing its and therefore, practicing it would not be bad- many could argue like that. on the other hand, the two twin siblings, David and Jenifer, tries to fit in the 1950s life which lead them to understand problems such as racism and freedom of speech as mentioned earlier. The similarity here is that both artists have used the influence of the social setting be one of the core aspects which lead to social problems. It is therefore clear that the artists partly blames the social setting which leads to influence and hence leading to social problems. Coping with these problems, therefore, starts with the change of the social settings as advocated by the artists. It is the mandate of the society to make changes to allow the elimination of social problems.
A remarkable difference here first is the one; Sonny’s Blues is a short story while Pleasantville is a file, even though both of them, focuses on the societal problems. Perhaps this difference is due to the time or period in which the worlds were released and for this, the role of the artists was to targeted bigger audience to get the message. Sonny’s Blues is a 1957 shorty story, a period in which reading was prioritized. On the other hand, the film Pleasantville is a 1998 fantasy comedy-drama, a period where many people liked watching. The role of the artists was to ensure the coping with the social problems and this would be only be reached if the targeted audience is reached hence, the used of different genres or pieces as dictated by the period.
A Variety of Themes in Sonny’s Blues by J. Baldwin
The Theme of Suffering on Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin
In the 1965 publication of Going to Meet the Man, a collection of short literature, James Baldwin’s 1957 short story Sonny’s Blues was published. This story went on to become a widely respected piece due to the relatability and tragic story of drug addicted musician, Sonny. This short brought the topic of drug addiction in the black community to all eyes around the world. It also helped audiences relate to a black musician struggling to survive in the inner cities of Harlem, New York, and the passionate artist’s way of coping with poverty and the hatred that was extremely relevant at the time. This piece has three focal points that bring that helps the audience understand the relation between the story and the theme of suffering; the narrator’s viewpoint on how to understand his brother and what made him become the person that he was, the main character Sonny being the struggling artist that many people can relate to, and ultimately the use of heroin being the object that helped open the door to music and creativity in Sonny’s life and helping him express his suffering.
To illustrate one of the focal points of this work, the narrator is a huge part of the story. Besides telling the story, the audience gets a peephole into how this character interacts with Sonny, how he deals with hardships, and how he copes with the hardships of his brother, as Sonny’s only support system. The narrator, who stays nameless, can relate with all audience types because he is a man simply trying to better himself and get out of the poisonous world he grew up in. A city where the streets are filled with drug addicts and poverty. Due to his aspiration of furthering his life, he enlists in the military and serves. When his service time is up, he becomes an algebra teacher, trying to teach kids who remind him of his brother and trying to keep them away from drugs and trouble. His journey of acceptance of his brother’s disease brings his own inner demons to light. He struggles with self-acceptance, the death of his daughter and how it brought him back to communicating with his brother, and the promise he made to his mother that he drifted away from. His relationship with his brother gives the reader further insight into the character the story surrounds, Sonny.
Notably, Sonny is the most diverse, troubled, tragic character of the entire work. He did not particularly start out as such a simple character, but he in fact was not as diverse a character as he grew into throughout the story. Sonny’s relationship with Heroin proves to the audience that he takes the drug more than just for the hell of it. He takes it as a stimulant to help him feel the music, and to numb the parts of his life that he wished never existed. He calls the drug a “she”, which shows the audience that his personification of an inanimate object represented a love/hate relationship with heroin, just as he would have with a lover. Sonny constantly struggles with his addiction, and because of that it strains the relationship between him and his brother, who cares for him but only responds in anger when he doesn’t agree with what Sonny must say about life and how he handles situations and calamity. His disease also shows that he is very observant and smart, because of the way he describes what it feels like to him. The heedfulness shows that he had a great intelligent perception of his problem. In the story, when he plays a gig after he is released from prison, he stumbles through the first set, getting used to not have been practicing on his instrument and not playing it with the help of the heroin. As the second set starts, it proves to all the readers that he can, in fact, succeed without the help of drugs:
Yet, watching Creole’s face as they neared the end of the first set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn’t heard. Then they finished, there was scattered applause, and then, without an instant’s warning, Creole started into something else, it was almost sardonic, it was Am I Blue? And, as though he commanded, Sonny began to play. Something began to happen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said something awful on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, commenting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful and calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano. It seemed that he couldn’t get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand-new pianos certainly were a gas.
With regards to the relationship Sonny has with Heroin, this drug is a stupendous part of the story, and a main key between the relationship with Sonny and his brother. Without the use of heroin, this story would not have had that big of an effect. The use of drugs brings out the tragedy within all other aspects of this story: the deaths, the poverty, the strained relationships, and the music. This was an odd way that the brothers surprisingly bonded as well. If there was no use of drugs, the narrator would not have understood most of Sonny’s reckless behavior, if Sonny would have still ended up in the same situations. The public would also not see the development in either characters, because there would not be any type of conversations that dealt with drug addiction, which is also the main purpose of the story. Sonny would be just another character in any generic story about a man going to prison and growing up poor, struggling to find an escape through his music. The drug addiction added depth to his journey on becoming a better human, and therefore making his recovery all the sweeter. His journey helps the audience relate to suffering and understanding why suffering is a universal theme everyone can understand.
Given these points, Sonny’s Blues is a journey into the drug and music lover’s world, and can also have a relationship between black families, families that have dealt with death, people who have watched a loved one spiral down into the dark abyss of drug addiction, and families that try to improve their situations with hard work and observations. James Baldwin’s story will go down as one of the most influential pieces of literature in American history, and Sonny will always remain an unforgettable character. The theme of suffering was constantly used because it was heavily relatable to anyone, because everyone to an extent feels some sort of pain during their lifetime.
Mixed Feelings About Sonny in Sonny’s Blues by J. Baldwin
A Way of Escape
An Analysis on Sonny’s Blues
In the story “Sonny’s Blues”, written by James Baldwin, the narrator must deal with his confused feelings towards Sonny, his brother, when he is arrested for drug use. The plot may not be very clear at first, but it will lead the reader to experience Sonny’s world as they figure out why he turned to drugs in the first place. Two of the setting in this narrative, the city where they brothers grew up and the club where Sonny plays near the end of the story, effectively shows the contrast between Sonny’s pain and his method of expressing this pain as Baldwin’s use of time and place cause the reader to relate to the idea of expression and being understood.
The city where the main characters grew up together reflects a mood of hopelessness, which is also prevalent throughout most of the story. As Sonny and the narrator make their way to his home, the narrator begins to think about the place where they grew up. He talks about the streets as if it is alive; that the streets they lived on were very dangerous (76). In paragraph 79, he starts to talk about his home as a child, describing it as “rundown” and an “uninhabitably new” with windows that “aren’t big enough to make space out of no space”. Overall, his description of the city introduces this mood of hopelessness that continues to creep into the flashback. Later in the flashback, Sonny tells his brother that he cannot learn what he wants to learn from school and that he wants to become a musician. The narrator dismisses this notation and convinces his brother to live his wife’s family until he graduates college. Here, he spends most of his time on the piano, which is his way to communicate his feelings. This gets the reader to feel that Sonny is misunderstood; he does not want to go to school and his family did not like that he practiced non-stopped (172). When he found out he was a burden on his family, he joined the navy. This hopeless mood is farther re-enforced by Sonny in his conversation with his brother. He tells him that there is no way not to suffer, but people do not want to just take it, but find an escape from it (210, 213). The conversation alone gives a depressive tone, but the mention of the rundown streets with uninhabitably new apartments and being misunderstood by his family conveys the setting of a city that provides little, if any, opportunities for escape for a better life, thus giving that mood of hopelessness.
The nightclub that is introduced near the end of the story gives a feeling of hope and breakthrough, which is contrary to the hopeless and trapped mood presented in the narrator’s childhood. After the author reminisces on the past, he fast-forwards to about Three weeks after driving Sonny home from jail. That is when Sonny gets the narrator to go to the only nightclub in the intimidating streets. When they first enter, the lights were dimmed to the point where they could not see (229). This made the mood similar to the rest of the city. However, over their time at the club, the mood slowly brightens up, as the narrator meets all the people that Sonny knew at the club. It soon becomes apparent to the narrator and the reader that the club is “Sonny’s world” and that he uses the club as a means to escape his reality (233). The hopeless atmosphere is no longer present when Sonny and the others start playing. In the club, the people loved to listen to him play and Sonny had an outlet where he can vent his frustrations and hurt out through his music. This is especially prevalent when they played the song Am I Blue. On his solo, Sonny begins to vent all of his troubles, pouring all of his emotions into the piano and escape into his own world. The pain he pours out begins to touch the audience who are listening, especially the narrator. The narrator begins to think about the daughter he lost and cry (242). When the song ends, he is sweating and grinning. He is at peace because, after all this time, he got a chance to let out his pains for the audience to listen. Their applause show affirms that people care about what he had to say with his music, covering the entire place with a hopeful feeling. The way Baldwin uses this setting is effective in dynamically changing the hopeless mood into a mood of hope as he vents his frustrations through his music.
Baldwin’s use of time and place effectively contrasts Sonny’s problems to his own solution. The reader will feel the hopelessness of the dark and menacing city as well as the club that will give out a hopeful atmosphere. Overall, the reader may have mixed feelings about Sonny, but will surely symphonize with him as the reader uncovers Sonny’s blues.
The Impact of Drugs in “Sonny’s Blues”
In “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin explores the impact of drugs on the users and their families. The abuse of heroin results in the destruction of artistic talent, lives, and relationships with the family members. Sonny uses drugs as a means of escaping from an environment that is depressive, stressful and full of suffering. Baldwin restrains from judging Sonny because of his addiction problems because he wants to bring out the destructive effects of drug abuse and the role that the brain plays in the abuse of drugs. Whereas millions of people could be facing the problem of drug addiction, sending them to prison is not a viable remedy (Eagleman 203). The issue of drug addiction lies within the brain; therefore, it is imperative to develop strategies that will focus on the operations of the brain to improve the capacity of drug addicts to exercise impulse control.
Drug addiction is difficult to shake off because once one is hooked to drugs, he or she wants to use them continuously. Sonny describes what it feels to be high on heroin when he says that “When she was singing before,” said Sonny, abruptly, “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes – when it’s in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time” (Baldwin 17).Here, sonny means that it takes courage to resist the temptation of trying heroin once you have tasted it because it makes one feel high. The comparison between heroin and the shooting music means that once a person has taken the heroine, he or she experiences instant gratification and feels to be in another world. Therefore, the only thing that one thinks of when using the heroine is the feeling he or she gets at that moment and not the long-term consequences of the drug on the body. Sonny plunged into the now-versus- the-future battle that is why he did not think about the long-term consequences of drug abuse. He wanted to get excitement from the drugs at that moment. Eagleman writes that “to the brain, the future can only ever be a pale shadow of the now. The power of now explains why people make decisions that feel good at the moment but have lousy consequences in the future: people who take a drink or a drug hit even though they know they shouldn’t (191). At the moment when Sonny was abusing the heroine, he did not care whether it was going to destroy his life and the relationship with his brother. All that he wanted at that moment was to feel high. Therefore, the decision to use drugs is a perfect manifestation of now-versus-the-future battle in the brain.
Notably, impulse control is a perfect strategy for dealing with drug addiction because the brain controls the aspect of drug addiction. To elaborate, Sonny exemplifies impulse control when he says that “sometimes I think I’m going to flip and never get outside, and sometimes I think I’ll come straight back. I tell you one thing, though, I’d rather blow my brains out than go through this again” (Baldwin 16). Sonny compares the effects of heroin to a shooting music to demonstrate that drug addiction is powerful and impairs the ability of one to think clearly. Overcoming drug addiction is not easy, but Sonny restrains himself from going back to them because of his experiences with them. Sonny asserts that he is ready to die instead of going back to prison because of drug abuse. His realization of the dangerous implications of drug abuse makes him exercise impulse control and thus does not fall into the temptation of using drugs again. Eagleman explains that “because the problem with drug addiction lies in the brain, it’s plausible that the solutions lie there too. One approach is to tip the balance of impulse control” (202).Therefore, the people that are interested in quitting drugs for good should learn to control their impulses so that they cannot be tempted to go back to the drugs once they have stopped. Impulse control can be useful when one considers the long-term implications of the drug abuse any time he or she is tempted to go back to the drugs.
Additionally, social interactions are essential for all people because they give them a sense of belonging. To elaborate, in “Sonny’s Blues’, the narrator underscores the significance of social relationships when he says that “and he treated these other people as though they were his family and I weren’t. So I got mad, and then he got mad, and then I told him that he might just as well be dead as live the way he was living” (Baldwin 13). Sonny’s brother does not understand him that is why he opts to find other people that understand him and his preferences for jazz music. He feels that his brother is not a part of his family because he does not appreciate him for whom he is, and he does not understand that jazz music is significant in his life. Sonny’s brother is devastated because he feels that Sonny does not consider him to be his brother. The musical family is critical is Sonny’s life because it enables him to do what he likes most. Therefore, family does not mean that people have the same blood.
A family is, ideally, composed of the people that love you and give you a sense of belonging. The socialization is controlled by the brain because Eagleman explains that “all of this social glue is generated by specific circuitry in the brain: sprawling networks that monitor other people, communicate with them, feel their pain, judge their intentions, and read their emotions” (208). Socialization influences the emotions are feelings of people. Human beings are social creatures that is why the development of sound social relationships leads to good feelings and happiness. On the other hand, the breaking up of social relationships affects the concerned parties in a negative manner because it makes them feel inadequate.
Decision making is key to shaping the identity of a person and the manner in which that person perceives the environment around him. Decision making entails weighing various options in life. People should strive to make the right decisions at the present moment because those decisions will be vital in shaping their futures. Having a good understanding of the functioning of the brain increases the chances of making the best choices in life. The policy should spearhead the introduction of rehabilitation programs for the drug addicts because sending them to prison does not increase their capacity to exercise impulse control. Focusing on the functioning of the brain in the rehabilitation programs will be helpful in ending the war on drugs because the programs will enable the drug addicts to restrain themselves from using drugs voluntarily.
Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009. Eagleman, David. The Brain: The Story of You. Vintage, 2015.
An Analysis of Suffering in Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway and Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin
In many instances works of literature portray real life situations whether it be physical, emotional or mental issues. Humans all experience some form of suffering in their lives. Works of literature use the theme of suffering to portray how people suffer in their own way and how they react to their suffering. Authors like James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway use the theme of suffering to add realistic situations and drama to their short stories to connect to the readers.
In James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” the story is about a young jazz musician named Sonny who battles his addiction to heroin. His story and his pain are explained to us from his brother’s point of view, who is the narrator. In the beginning, we find out that Sonny was arrested for using and selling drugs and then later on when he is released from prison, he moves in with the narrator and his family in Harlem, New York. Through the narrator’s point of view, we can understand the different forms of suffering throughout this story.
Many of the characters in the story suffer in their own way. Of course, the central issue in this piece is drug addiction, but also the issues of grief, poverty and limited opportunities in life are evident. Some of the characters try to fight to escape their suffering while others accept their pain.
Sonny suffers in different ways but the most obvious one is his drug addiction. According to the narrator, Sonny started using heroine when he was just in high school. Currently, the narrator is a high school teacher. He says, “I was sure that the first time Sonny had ever had [heroine], he couldn’t have been older than these boys were now” (265). Growing up in Harlem played a role in the start of Sonny’s use of heroin – poverty is everywhere and there is an abundance of drugs. Sonny tried escaping the suffering he experienced from poverty by leaving Harlem to pursue a music career but he never escaped the hold drugs had on him.
His inability to escape poverty in his teenage years is what led him to drugs – he felt in control when he was using them. He couldn’t control his situation of living in a place like Harlem so he used heroin to cope. “…what heroin feels like sometimes…warm and cool…it makes you feel–in control. Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling” (286). He goes on to tell his brother that heroin allowed him to stand the misery he suffered living in Harlem. He further explains how he felt like he had control of his life when he was under the influence: “No, there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem – well, like you….” (287). He believed that the suffering he endured from heroine was only because he chose to suffer, unlike the suffering he endured living in Harlem which was not in his control.
Sonny also suffered from being in jail and knowing that he hurt his family. After he received a letter from his brother while he was in jail, Sonny wrote back saying, “You don’t know how much I needed to hear from you. I wanted to write you many a time but I dug how much I must have hurt you and so I didn’t write” (269). Jail was causing him emotional and mental suffering but he didn’t reach out to his brother because he was suffering over the guilt of upsetting him with his drug addiction. The pain of knowing he let his brother down influenced his decision to not reach out even if he needed family support when he was at his lowest.
Besides Sonny, the narrator is also suffering but in a different way; he is suffering from grief. After finding out that Sonny got arrested for using and selling drugs, the narrator was in shock. “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice…Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream” (264). The narrator is suffering silently, unable to express his emotions. He doesn’t fall apart, as if he knew this would happen sooner or later because of his brother’s situation. The narrator is angry – angry at what Harlem did to his brother, angry at what his brother keeps doing to himself and angry at anyone who knew Sonny before he left Harlem. He runs into someone who was an old friend of Sonny. That old friend is also an addict. For a brief moment the man looked like Sonny to the narrator until he realized it wasn’t him but that he also reminded him of Sonny. The narrator has a strong feeling of hate towards Sonny’s old friend because of how his situation is similar to Sonny’s. The narrator talks with him about Sonny and what will happen to him after prison. When he is about to leave the man, the man asks for some money and the narrator knows what he’ll be using it for so he feels sympathetic and compassionate. “All at once something inside gave and threatened to come pouring out of me. I didn’t hate him any more. I felt that in another moment I’d start crying like a child” (268). He doesn’t hate the man anymore but almost physically expresses his grief over him and Sonny and what their lives have become. Seeing the man gives him memories of his brother before he left Harlem.
Another instance of suffering in the story which isn’t really talked about is the suffering the boys growing up in Harlem have to endure. Their opportunities to try to escape the harsh life of Harlem are limited. The narrator compares their situation to his and Sonny’s situation growing up in Harlem. “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” (265). The boys know they don’t have much of a chance to make a change to their lives, to overcome the obstacles blocking them from achieving success and to change the circumstances they are in.
Suffering is expressed in different ways in this story. Some are actually dealing with their form of suffering directly while others aren’t. Either way, suffering is present in all of their lives, and will affect them whether they acknowledge it or not.
In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Indian Camp,” a young boy named Nick goes to an American Indian camp on the other side of the lake with his father, who is a doctor, and his Uncle George. His father was called to help deliver a baby of an American Indian woman who has been in labor for the past two days. She is in pain and Nick watches as the situation unfolds in front of his eyes.
The theme of suffering is evident in this story and the suffering by two of the characters is caused by the unborn baby itself. There are both physical and mental suffering and each character deals with the pain in their own way.
The Indian woman is suffering from the physical pain of being in painful labor for two days. She has been screaming for days and the doctor was unable to stop her screaming because he doesn’t have any anesthetic. The Indian woman goes through more physical pain when the doctor started operating on her without the right surgical supplies. The doctor proudly states how he did the operation: “…a Caesarian with a jackknife and sewing it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders” (481). She is unable to control her suffering but she does try to cope with it when Uncle George is next to her. She bit on his arm when she was being held down by him and three other Indian men while the doctor operated on her.
The Indian woman’s husband is suffering from the mental pain of witnessing his wife going through labor. The husband is suffering from shame – the fact that his wife was impregnated by another man, let alone a white man. He is also suffering from the physical pain from when he had cut his foot badly with an axe. Listening to his wife scream in pain was also causing his suffering since he couldn’t escape her cries and he knows the only reason why she is in this situation is because of Uncle George. The husband is in mental pain when Nick asks his dad to make her stop screaming the doctor replies with “…her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important” (480). As soon as he said that, the husband “rolled over against the wall” (480). He is also suffering from the mental oppression from the white men and from the fact that the doctor doesn’t deem his wife’s physical pain as important. In society, men aren’t supposed to expose their weaknesses and show that they are suffering. So, the husband silently takes the mental pain he is enduring which ultimately leads to his suicide.
At the end of the story, Nicks asks his father about the Indian woman’s husband. He asks, “Why did he kill himself, Daddy?” to which the father replied, “I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess” (481). Nick’s father knows that the Indian man couldn’t bare to stand his mental pain much longer so he committed suicide as a way to deal with his suffering.
Both characters deal with their suffering in different ways. Gender has a role in how both the Indian man and Indian woman choose to deal with their pain. Suffering can be linked to weakness and that is why the Indian man did not express himself in any way. Instead, he stayed in his spot on the bed, lying down until he couldn’t take it anymore. The Indian woman however did express herself and because she is a woman, her signs of weakness were deemed as normal.
Suffering is a state of physical, emotional or mental pain that is unavoidable. How someone chooses to deal with their suffering is what determines whether or not a person is able to overcome their problems. Both James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway brilliantly use the theme of suffering to portray how it affects different people in different situations.
The Effects of Light in Sonny’s Blues, a Short Story by James Baldwin
Light transforms, destroys, and elevates experiences and thoughts throughout ‘Sonny’s Blues’, by James Baldwin. Sonny and his brother, the narrator, grew up in the ‘dark’ atmosphere of Harlem and its housing projects and deteriorating, drug-ridden streets. The process of growing up, of losing their parents, and of living amidst both light and darkness had shaped both the narrator and Sonny. Baldwin uses light, and its counter, darkness, to present the challenges and hopes of the adult and boyhood days of the protagonists. If there is one line that summarizes the point that Baldwin conveys through this imagery, it is, “All that hatred and misery and love. It’s a wonder it doesn't blow the avenue apart” (pg 639). Through Sonny and his brother, we can see that light and dark can be put together, like hatred and love. Light and dark reflect the basic human experience; they are primeval aspects of the world that have always contrasted, but in this story, Baldwin brings them together.
The narrator’s childhood in Harlem was an experience that influenced him to be a teacher, and gave Sonny to have the desire to get as far away from his hometown as possible; this can be seen through the use of light and darkness. In the first passage, everything surrounding the boys while growing up is darkness. Their lives only lead into the darkness. The movies are a literal darkness that helps them escape their lives for a few hours, but in the end only make the literal darkness of life in Harlem even deeper. This same views on life in Harlem were echoed in the Narrator’s childhood, “And when light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness…moved a little closer to the darkness outside…what the old folks have been talking about” (pg 623). Through the passage, and this quote, we see that the general view is that light -like the movies mentioned in the first passage- only deludes a child, drawing him away from the harsh reality that will be his life, which “old folks” have experienced already. In response to this, the narrator tries to remove himself mentally from his environment by becoming a math teacher, by getting married, and even by cutting off his brother for a few years. He believes that if he ignores his inside, he can escape the darkness; but instead, he brings more darkness in. Sonny scares the narrator because he fluctuates between “bright and open” (pg 613) and “all the light in his face..gone out” (pg 614). Sonny is connected to his lights and darknesses through drugs, and then through music; these are both parts of Sonny’s life that the narrator cannot understand or accept for the majority of the story.
The narrator’s view of light and dark culminates in the second passage, and after that point. It is an epiphany for the narrator, and for Sonny. The narrator fears for Sonny, for his “perishing inflame”, for his inner fire to take over and burn him out, like what almost happened with his heroin addictions. He comes to understand that light and darkness exist together in the real world, with different drawbacks and benefits, just as they both exist within Sonny. The narrator begins by being downright petrified of the light, and when Sonny and his fellow musicians cross into the light, it is like a barrier is broken in his mind that allows the narrator to finally understand. He finally saw Sonny happy, and saw him grinning. He saw Sonny as a god, a creator of his own world. Despite all of the darkness that Sonny has inside of him, and in his past, he is able to embrace the light and not be afraid. Sonny was “so touched he could have cried” in this moment and he “put his hand to his heart”; it is the culmination of two emotional responses, crying is combined with love for what he does. Even the keys of the piano are light and dark and lie next to each other. The piano is beautiful and real and emotional with all of its lights and darknesses, the same goes for Sonny’s music, and the same goes for his and the narrator’s lives.
The symbol of light develops as the brothers begin to understand each other and themselves more. Sonny began by “…trying to climb out of some deep, real deep, and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside.” (pg 618). The narrator began by seeing “the darkness growing against the windowpanes” (pg 622) during his childhood. In the two passages, we see that the narrator originally saw darkness everywhere, but through Sonny’s music and true emotion, the narrator begins to understand that light will not cause anyone to “perish”. Rather, some light- and some pure optimism- is part of life.
The use of light and darkness draws to a conclusion on the final page; Sonny’s music was “burning”, and yet “trouble stretched above [them], longer than the sky”. The final line portrays Sonny as “glowing”. A man who clearly had much darkness in his life, and who will probably have similar darknesses in his future, still has the potential and talent to “glow”. Dark and light are the struggles of life that are depicted in “Sonny’s Blues”; from this we see that light can be too extreme, and darkness can be the reality that must be accepted. They exist together and balance each other: one cannot live in pure light, as Sonny tried through his music, heroin, and desire to transcend; one cannot live in deep darkness, as the narrator tried through stifling his emotions. Sonny certainly did have his darknesses, and the narrato had his lights.
The Impact of Guilt in Sonny’s Blues, a Short Story by James Baldwin
In the story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin the narrator explains the hardships that mainly his brother had to face, but also the rest of his family faced when he was a child. He displays this by telling a continuous stream of stories indirectly reflecting the racism and segregation faced where they grew up. Also, through this the narrator shows the lack of human rights given to people around him due to the circumstances.
Racism is the dark undercurrent that flows through "Sonny's Blues". It is rarely referenced directly but its pull can be felt continuously. For example, Baldwin mentions housing projects that rise out of Harlem like "rocks in the middle of the boiling sea" (Baldwin 80). The result of local and federal segregationist housing policies, the projects depict the impact of racism on a community. However, even despite racism being slightly more prominent in certain areas such as the projects it is acknowledged that racism is still a threat anywhere when the narrator talks about how when his mother suggest the family move to a safer area the father would always say, “Safe” “Safe, hell! Ain’t no place safe for kids, nor nobody.” (Baldwin 81). Similarly, much of Sonny’s brother's dismay for his students can be attributed to the fact that they are much like Sonny and they live in system that will ruthlessly and endlessly discriminates against them.
Throughout the story it is apparent that many factors led to the difficulties Sonny faces during his life. However, it would appear that the main responsibility to his ultimate downfall of landing in prison is on the racist society he dwelled in. However, the responsibility ends up weighing on Sonny’s brother not only due to the inherent relational responsibilities between a younger and older sibling, but due to the request of their mother to look over Sonny in her absence. This request bring the constant and vague influence of racism throughout the story to the forefront, as, when the narrator's mother explains how drunken white men killed her her brother-in-law and warns the brother that something similar could happen to Sonny, showing much of the suffering in the story referred to can be attributed to the effects of racism. The mother’s actions are explained when the brother speaks of suffering as something passed down from one generation to the next in the African American community, making racism culprit of Sonny and his brother’s current state of misfortune.
All of the subliminal insertion of the ever prominent theme of racism also addresses human rights in the story. Human rights are addressed in the aspect that many of those in the narrator’s family and those in the community around them were stripped of them due to racism. For example, the way the brother describes the projects as being new at first, but later had become rundown despite the inhabitants effort to keep them pristine like the home in a wealthier neighborhood. This somewhat implies that the homes were not good quality, as despite efforts they couldn’t be kept up to standard. Being given these homes shows a lack of human rights since one of the basic human rights is shelter, and if the ‘shelter’ you live in inferior to others it may keep you from moving towards achieving things other than acquiring a more stable shelter. Also, there is that fact that Sonny’s troubles are due to the fact he had been engaged in activities that would help him escape the projects. The narrator acknowledges this saying, “The moment Sonny and I started into that house I had a feeling that I was simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape.” (Baldwin 81). It implies that their life in the project were so insufferable to the point that Sonny was willing to risk his life doing drugs and other illegal activities to get away from it. This shows how those in power had very little regard for certain people’s lives and put those they lack regard for in positions that they themselves wouldn’t want to be in.
Therefore, the narrator’s recollections of his past show his feeling of guilt towards the hardships that have befallen his brother. This sense of guilt is also heavily shown through his sense of foreboding for the future of his students. These conflicts are intensified by the constant presence of racism and foreboding of hardships to befall him and those around him in the future.