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.’
The Theme of Suffering in Sonny’s Blues
In ‘Sonny’s Blues,’ James Baldwin explores the theme of suffering experienced by two African American brothers who faced difficulties: housing, employment, drug addiction, imprisonment, and suicide. Both of the characters in ‘Sonny’s Blues’ Sonny and the narrator change over the course of the story.
In the beginning of “Sonny’s Blues” the narrator read about Sonny’s arrest in a newspaper charged for using and selling heroin. This take back caused to question Sonny’s identity way back to childhood because when Sonny was ‘wild, but he wasn’t crazy’ (4). Home was a tough back living in Harlem. The home is a physical place in ‘Sonny’s Blues,’ but it’s also an idea. The idea of home had many different meanings within the memories of the household. Home is comfort, conflict, grief, suffering, and caring all combine into one. Its roof is built up people living there. Home is a symbolic way of showing a place where someone feels that they belong. “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.” (5) Suffering shows in many different ways. Living in Harlem They suffer from the limits that their circumstances have forced them with.
Drugs are essential theme in ‘Sonny’s Blues,’ interfering with both the users and those who love them. He had been picked up, the evening before, in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using heroin. (3) This is the first time we heard about Sonny or his drug use. Addiction can start when an individual feels lonely or is isolated from the friends and family. They turn to drugs and alcohol thinking that it will fill a void that they have been living with. People lacking positive daily interaction may choose to use substances to feel happy or content. It’s also sign of darkness when someone is suffering clinical depression.
The idea of suffering lingers over ‘Sonny’s Blues.’ Every character suffers in a way from grief, addiction, limited opportunities in life. The constant presence of suffering wears the characters down, and while some are adjusted to it, others continue to fight it. Suffering is expressed in multiple ways in this story through music, drug use, on people’s faces, through the ways they incorporate with one another, and even through recurring nightmares. Although suffering is more immediately present for some characters, it’s a part of all of their lives. The two brothers in this story clearly love one another, but they don’t understand each other and they don’t approve of each other’s lives. The narrator creates a family with his wife and children who so happen to be a mathematics teacher as well, and Sonny creates a family with his fellow musicians. “He came by the house from time to time, but we fought almost every time we met.” (173) Sonny and the narrator love each other, but they just can’t get past the differences in their lives, their choices, and their ideas about right and wrong.
Sonny starts to talk about suffering and about trying to escape it by using drugs. He talks about playing the piano and the reasoning why he plays. He tries to explain to his brother why he turned to drugs, but the narrator doesn’t want to hear it at first. The narrator blames the music and the people he surround himself with for leading Sonny to heroin, and he tells Sonny how upset he is that Sonny seems determined to end his life by being an addict. Sonny gets just as upset for his brother never reaching out to him after his arrest, for not accepting that people have different ways of dealing with things, and for not understanding that being a musician isn’t what turned Sonny into a drug addict. “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. But now I feel like a man who’s been trying to climb out of some deep, real deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside. (49) Sonny suffers from many different things. He suffers from his drug addiction and from being stuck in jail. But he also suffers from the knowledge that he’s hurt his family and that, because of this, he didn’t dare reach out to them even when he needed to the most.
At the very end of the story, the narrator has come to watch Sonny play piano at a nightclub, and it seems that he finally sees how talented his brother is. But more importantly, he also seems to see that music is a part of Sonny. As a gesture of this new understanding, the narrator sends Sonny a drink, which he places above him on the piano as he plays. At first his brother was inconsiderate and only looking at things in his perspective. Not saying drug is the key to help you cope with your problems but everyone handle their issues differently. Sonny so happen had use drug as his way with coping with his past and current life. In life we tend to make comments about the way people handle things more than looking at things vice versa. However the narrator finally let go what was and realize what is to have a open mind to understanding his brother. With this in mind, Sonny and the narrator pays respect to one another at Sonny’s performance. Above all, their bond has preserved through the hardships and new their relation continues to grow as they build a new foundation.
“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 Depiction of Escapism in Sonny’s Blues
The Great Escape
James Baldwin was an essayist, poet, playwright and novelist. He is regarded as a highly intellectual insightful writer, and iconic novelist in the post war 20’th century. Baldwin spent his early years in a prominently black, ghetto neighborhood called Harlem in new york. This neighborhood is equally well known for its drug problems, as well as the talented writers, poets, artists, and musicians it produced. After Baldwin lost his father he moved to paris. This became a turning point in his writing career. He told the New York Times “Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly…I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both.” This tells us a lot about Baldwin, especially how he came to write the brilliant stories and poems he has. His childhood upbringing plays as integral part of his story writing. As per many people living in the area Baldwin grew up in, the thought of escape was extremely pleasing. This theme as well as the theme of drugs transfers into his work. In Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, the author details themes of escapism by the way in which he incorporates drug addiction, career choice, and music.
Escapism is a common theme that most people experienced one time or another. It is defined as a form of mental diversion in terms of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life. Escapism serves as a self defense mechanism our brain uses in order to cope with reality (Tvtropes Editors). It provides a refuge within a situation in which a person is not able to cope. In this particular work, the author uses his fictional characters in order to push this theme.
One of the minor, but still relevant incorporations of the theme of escapism is in the characters use of their career in order to leave the harlem ghetto. For the narrator, also known as Sonny’s brother, the first avenue of escape was the military. After the narrator’s mother asked him to watch over, and be by his brother’s side he was married and shipped off to go into the military. The narrator states “and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on special furlough for her funeral.” This is a prime and core example of the need to get away from the thoughts of Harlem. The narrator was not affected by the thoughts of Harlem and his promises until they came crashing down upon his shoulders. He used the military to escape his life in Harlem. Another example of the use of career as escape comes later in the timeline of this work. The narrator uses his education as another pathway of escape by becoming a school teacher. He moves into a housing project near the school, which he describes as “uninhabitably new, now of course, it’s already rundown”, “a parody of the good, clean, faceless life”, “beat-looking grass lying around isn’t enough to make their lives green”, and “the hedges will never hold out the streets.” Though he uses his career in order to escape, soon reality sinks in and Sonny’s brother realizes the even though they are surrounded by the housing project, the Harlem streets feet away are pushing themselves in. He can’t escape from his surroundings, it is inevitable that he must face his reality. By incorporating career as a form of escape, Baldwin gives the narrator a seemingly simple way to escape the Harlem ghetto.
The second very key incorporation of escapism is in use of heroin. Because of the surroundings these characters have been placed in, drugs are a very typical thing. The narrator describes his brother’s drug addiction as “going down, coming to nothing, all that light in his face gone out.” He speaks of seeing this multiple times. He talks of the students he teaches stating “I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe it did more for them than algebra could.” This use of escapism is not only brilliant and subtle, but also a key point in recognizing the drug problems in Harlem. By stating heroin is able help the young children more than algebra can, is a core example of escapism, and the way in which the characters use drugs to escape from their reality. Another example of this comes near the conclusion of the work, from a scene in which Sonny is describing why he uses drugs to his brother. Sonny states “well, I needed a fix, I needed to find a place to lean, I needed to clear a space to listen.” Sonny’s need to escape from Harlem- and ultimately himself, caused him to use heroin in order to get away from reality. By incorporating heroin as a form of escape, Baldwin gives Sonny a pathway to escape the Harlem ghetto. Granted, this pathway is arguably one of the worst to choose, nevertheless Sonny uses heroin as a form of escape.
The most prominent use of escapism in this work is anchored in the way music is incorporated into this short story. Once Sonny gets over his heroin addiction he turn to music in order to escape the harsh realities of Harlem. In a scene in which Sonny is watching 4 singers, he states “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes-when it’s in your veins”, “warm and cool at the same time”, “distant. And-sure”, “it makes you feel-in control”, “sometimes you got to have that feeling.” The way Sonny compares music to heroin is one of the reasons he moves to music to support his want and need to escape harlem, and himself. Another example of this is the scene in which Sonny brings his brother to listen to him play. The narrator states “Yet, it was clear that, for them, I was only Sonny’s brother. Here I was in Sonny’s world. Or rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood.” This is such a key example of how in this work music plays a key role in escaping Harlem. When playing or listening to music, the characters are able to escape into this world. By incorporating music as a form of escape, Baldwin gives Sonny and his brother the ability to escape from their reality and exist entirely in the world of music.
In conclusion, James Baldwin uses drug addiction, career choice, and music to incorporate escapism into Sonny’s blues. Their is a large amount of in text evidence proving these points such as, but not limited to the scenes stated above. By doing this Baldwin gives his characters a mean of escape from the harlem ghetto’s.
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.