James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues Expression of Pain Thesis

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James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

Expression of Pain Through the Language of Music

The pain and struggle faced by many African-Americans throughout the history of the United States in many cases proves too great to sufficiently express through actual verbal communication. And so, many have turned towards music, the Blues and Jazz especially, to use as a facilitator to express their pain and explore their emotions in new ways. In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," the is a stark contrast between the narrator, who is stuck within a middle class existence revolved around verbal communication, and his brother Sonny who chooses to branch out and use his music to formulate his identity and express his deep rooted pain. Through the narrator's unhappiness with a false identity, he turned to Sonny and his Blues to help open up entire new worlds of communication; thus also relating him back to his true identity as an African-American male in Harlem.

The Narrator relies on textual information to clarify his communication, yet this has always made his relationship with Sonny much more complicated than necessary.

Much unlike his brother, the narrator has chosen a life built on verbal communication, "His response has built into it a strong sense of the need for proper verbal expression,"

Byerman 368). Yet, this choice has left him struggling to find a better method to express his pain. And so, the narrator is also portrayed as just as lost as his brother, for he lacks a true way to express himself and the pain of loosing his mother and baby daughter. At first, he refuses to believe that music is even capable of allowing this expressional freedom, and so he continues to search "for his identity in a hostile society and, in a social situation which invites fatalistic compliance," (Murray 353). Before this story, the narrator had believed the only way to lift himself out of the ignorance he saw around him as a child, was through entering blindly into a middle class life; one goes to work, one comes home, one eats dinner, etc., (Murray 354). This then led him to look down upon his brother Sonny for his own personal method of escaping the streets of Harlem. He refused to look at the world in Sonny's shoes using music as the ultimate means of expression, "He expresses a desire to know, and remorse when he does not listen, but he also repeats his unwillingness to understand," (Byerman 368). Yet, this chosen identity proved not to really lift him out of anywhere; the narrator was still searching for identity and still living in the ghetto conditions of project housing which he had initially aimed to escape. At the same time, the narrator does show an unspoken connection with music, one which somewhat resembles that his brother has with music. However, he cannot participate in any sort of musical conversation, he has educated himself with letters -- not music notes, as Sonny has. Eventually, the narrator realizes his own fruitful attempts to communicate with others as he exposes his similarities to his "hopeless father," (Byerman 370). The narrator's choice of language does not sufficiently express his pain and other emotions; and so he is left unsatisfied without knowing why.

On the other hand, Sonny is allowed these musical linguistic talents. The narrator at first shows a complete lack of understanding for his brother's choice, "All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even when on the rare occasion when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are the personal, private, vanishing evocations," (Baldwin 119). Sonny uses music to sufficiently express his… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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