Them in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin Essay

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Hem in Sonny's Blues By James Baldwin

Blues People

There are a number of thematic issues that are existent in James Baldwin's short story entitled "Sonny's Blues," which details the lengthy relationship between a pair of African-American brothers, and that of their surrounding family, during the mid-20th century in a setting that largely takes place in Harlem. In addition to being a decidedly jazz influenced piece of literature, this tale also deals with subjects such as substance abuse, both of which can be considered recurring motifs in Baldwin's work. However, for the most part these themes are merely used by the author to reinforce the authority and the power in what serves as the author's primary theme: that of desperation, desolation, and the struggle for disenfranchised African-Americans to be able to maintain hope and self-esteem in situations that have been (purposefully?) designed to stifle them.

The primary source of this desperation is the socio-economic conditions that the narrator of the tale, who is unnamed, and his brother, Sonny, live in. Growing up in Harlem in the mid-20th century, the brothers were decidedly poor. Their neighborhood reflects this poverty and all of the usual trappings that have been known to accompany such poverty -- including crime, drug use, and suspect morals. The following quotation, in which the narrator is bringing Sonny to the narrator's current house in the neighborhood the brother's grew up in, demonstrates the atmosphere of this urban blight.

But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap (Baldwin)

The trappings of such inner city grief are illustrated by the fact that the author refers to the neighborhood surrounding the homes as "encircled" by disaster -- which are the dangers of the street life in such areas. Significantly, he also refers to such dangers and the neighborhoods as a "trap." This quotation is especially important because it references escaping the neighborhood and its trappings, which can swallow young men in its urban despair. This attempt to escape such poverty and the hopelessness it produces is the central theme in this novel that all the other themes are tied into.

A look at literary criticism readily supports this notion that the primary theme of "Sonny's Blues" is the attempt of the narrator, his brother, and African-Americans and all impoverished people in general to escape their disheartening circumstances that surround them. The other themes in… [end of preview; READ MORE]

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Them in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin.  (2012, February 21).  Retrieved January 23, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sonny-blues-james-baldwin/422117

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