Common Themes In James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues And Letter To My Nephew

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

America during the Civil Rights era was thought of as a time of change and reform due to the great number of activists and iconic heroes. However, the era was far from prosperous for the common African American. James Baldwin writings, “Letter to my Nephew” and Sonny’s Blues”, both showcase the struggles of blacks during the late 50-60s. During these years Black people struggled to eke out any form of living. Some of them dealing directly with racism and others able to avoid its grasp. During these two works, Baldwin has recurring themes of racial tension, and the impact of family on an individual’s life.

The racial tension that is shown in Letter to my nephew is addressed to James since he is apart of the next Black Generation. He is letting his nephew know that there needs to be something done with the progress of the black generation. He tells his nephew in his letter to “You Don’t be afraid.” He is trying to help his nephew understand that “We can make America what America must become.” Similarly Sonny’s Blues discuss racism indirectly through the impact it had on housing projects. Also, the narrator constantly discuss the suffering African Americans face through racism. It is also a clear image of racism when the narrator’s mom discuss how her brother in law were murdered by whitemen. He then is worry of his brother Sonny so he won’t face anything like that.

Baldwin uses a similar theme in both writings that discuss family motivating other family members. In Letter to my nephew, he addressed “you can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.” He is giving advice to his nephew on what it is like to be a struggling African American Male in America. This is meant to teach his nephew a lesson and motivate him on how some things can be better than what his ancestors had to suffer from. Baldwin asserts to his nephew that he should not believe in what white people would consider him a “nigger”. “A letter to my nephew” from James Bldwin is meant to outlay the cruelties of the world so that his nephew would understand that now is the time for different outcomes when it comes to racism. He wants to make sure his nephew does not believe what the white men think of him or he will be living in his own despair.

Families have a strong presence in Baldwin’s works. During Sonny’s Blues, Sonny’s family is constantly changing and causing him to either become more stressed or more distant. It seems that as Sonny’s family gets smaller, everyone becomes closer. After Sonny’s mother passed he and the narrator finally had their closest and eventually farthest moment in their relationship.

In conclusion, Baldwins works both embody themes of family bonds and of the struggles of being African American during the 50-60s. It is shown that even during the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks still faced harsh treatment and we see racial slurs dominate speech. We also see the positive and negative effects of family on individuals going through daily life in poor parts of the U.S. With the impact of family members in their lives they have great examples to learn from when it comes to the racial tension and family bonds being built. 


Read more