Richard Wright & James Baldwin Essay Analysis Essay

April 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” is about the complicated relationship between two brothers. The tale opens with a nameless narrator discovering his brother, Sonny, had been imprisoned for the use and distribution of heroin. Until his daughter Grace died, the narrator neglected to write to her uncle in prison. However, after Sonny received the proverbial olive branch, the brothers remained in perpetual communication. In an attempt to reconnect, Sonny was invited to stay at the narrator’s family’s apartment when he was released from jail. In an interminable flashback, the readers are offered insight into the narrator and Sonny’s family environment growing up: Sonny and his father always fought because they were too much alike, and the refined ways his mother would keep the peace. The narrator recollected returning to the army and unwittingly forgetting about his family affairs, at least until his mother died. At the funeral, Sonny told his brother of his dream to be a jazz pianist, but the narrator dismissed him and sends him away to school. However, after some issues with school attendance and differing opinions arise, Sonny rashly decided to join the navy. The narrator recalls that the brothers didn’t see one another for a while, but when they finally did, they had a heated argument about Sonny’s life choices; which was the end of the narrator’s walk down memory lane. After cohabitating post-incarceration with his brother’s family, Sonny invites his brother to watch him play the piano at a small jazz club where Sonny was well-received. While watching his brother play passionately, the narrator finally realized the greatness his brother was capable of. James Baldwin’s short story is a tale about a man who started as misunderstood boy that made bad choices and ended up in prison, but through the help of family and music, found his path to salvation in the end. In this mercurial story, Baldwin captures the feelings of obligation towards family, even when we aren’t always willing to fulfill our duties.

The short story “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright is about a seventeen-year-old boy named Dave who was desperate for the feeling of power and resolved that owning a gun was the best way to achieve that need. After convincing a shopkeeper to lend him a pistol for a night, he spent all his time admiring and hiding it. When his mother found it, he persuaded her to supply him with the money he needed to buy it, as he eased her mind with several falsehoods. Dave foolishly let the power go to his head and while trying to use the gun, he shot and killed the family mule. He unsuccessfully tried to cover-up his stupidity by hiding the gun and mule but wound up agreeing to pay his father the money for the mule. Then during a sleepless night, he retrieved the gun and forced himself to fire the rest of the rounds with more confidence and ran away from home via a train in the night. Richard Wright not only demonstrates the dangers of using gun unknowledgeably in this short story but the dangers that are presented by letting the power of control go to your head.

James Baldwin and Richard Wright’s short stories have several similarities between a few of their key characters, with noticeable discrepancies that can give the themes of the stories contrasting messages. The title characters in both “Sonny’s Blues” and “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” happen to be the main troubled characters, Sonny and Dave. The two fictional males are similar in personality and background as well: They were both African American men who grew up in a decent-enough home, they were both looking for freedom, and they both found it – at least temporarily – through addiction; whether it was to heroin and power. However, the intriguing part is differences between the two characters. While Dave was on the ultimate power-hungry trip to self-destruction, Sonny had served his time for his crimes and seemed to have found his sense of purpose, if not passion, in playing the piano. One of the themes they may be conflicting is the difference between Sonny seeking redemption by choosing family and passion over drug addiction, and Dave running away in the dead of night in search of the ultimate feeling of power. However, considering both of these men experienced somewhat comparable struggles, it can be argued that Dave could be a more severe representation of how Sonny may have been perceived to be in his mid-to-late adolescence.

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