Sonny's Blue Term Paper

Pages: 3 (982 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music

Sibling Choice and Sibling "Success" within James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

The philosophical question of who is actually more "successful" of the two brothers in James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues," Sonny or his older brother, is more complex than it at first appears. The easy and convenient answer is that Sonny's brother is more successful than Sonny is, since he holds a responsible job as an algebra teacher, is married with a family, and has never faced addictions or trouble with the law. However, Sonny, with all his quirks, addictions, and faults, has managed, against considerable odds (and self-sabotage) to become a successful jazz pianist, a rarer, more difficult-to-achieve accomplishment, even if the lifestyle that that accomplishment has demanded (and still demands) of Sonny is fraught with ever-present temptations and dangers.

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While there are many separate motifs throughout "Sonny's Blues" (e.g., family, life-choices, racism, equality, suffering, and artistic expression), the idea of success and failure plays a key role. In truth, Sonny and his brother have each experienced their respective successes and failures. In an unorthodox sense, Sonny is more successful, because, first, he understands what success means to him alone, and second, he is unwilling to give up that definition of success at any point in his life. Sonny has what most individuals yearn for all their lives but never achieve -- success on his own terms. The overriding theme of "Sonny's Blues," in fact, is that of how the narrator comes to finally understand and respect Sonny's version of success, even if he himself neither understands nor shares it.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Sonny's Blue Assignment

Raised on the streets of Harlem, both brothers have had to surmount enormous odds to become successful, or at times even to survive. In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes his own students who face the same temptations and obstacles he and Sonny faced at their age: "They were growing up with the rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities." Clearly, Sonny's brother is a success in many conventional ways. He is an algebra teacher in a high school in Harlem, has a wife and two children, and leads a stable middle-class life. He understands (and believes) that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary (as the saying goes). On the other hand, we also have a sense that he has had to give up some of who he is in order to become a conventional success.

For example, Sonny's older brother's complete lack of either any familiarity with, or understanding of, jazz or the blues illustrates just how far he has removed himself from his own African-American roots, or any real of heartfelt connection to them. Moreover, Sonny's older brother does have some of his own failures in life, despite his respectable veneer. One of these is that he is still living, and raising his own children, on the "killing streets" of Harlem. Another is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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