Term Paper: Sonny's Blues, by James Baldwin

Pages: 4 (1496 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] While the blues are a metaphor for Sonny and his brother's relationship in "Sonny's Blues," in "Sorrow Songs" they are not a metaphor, they are the subject and the theme of the piece. Du Bois wants to show how music is the backbone of black life, and the blues are the major part of that backbone. They describe black life perfectly, and create understanding of the black experience in many listeners. Both pieces also use the music to evoke hope in the character, and in the reader, just as Du Bois says the songs evoke hope in the singers. He notes, "Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins" (Du Bois). In "Sonny's Blues," the blues give hope for the two brother's lives as the book ends. In "Sorrow Songs," the folksongs evoke hope even when life was at its worst, and the blacks were in bondage, just as Du Bois' "Sorrow Songs" evokes hope and change at the end of the essay. The blues are a form of music that acknowledges its roots in the black folksongs of Du Bois' essay, and today they cross culture, with white artists singing the blues, too. This is a measure of their popularity, their meaning, and their depth.

In "Am I Blue?" Alice Walker uses the title of a famous blues song sung by legendary Ethel Waters to evoke a mood for her essay before one word is written. There is no mention of music in the story, and so at first glance, this essay seems removed from the other two works, where music plays an important and vital role in the pieces. However, Walker's use of a title of famous blues music sets the tone of the piece. The reader is not surprised when the horse "Blue" is blue, of course he is. Walker gives him human characteristics, and the foremost of these is his name, which suits the lonely horse perfectly. Just like most people, Blue is happiest when he has a friend or lover by his side, and he is sad or "blue" when he is alone. Blue evokes the feeling of the blues in his solitary life, and he eventually learns to use his loneliness as a barrier, like many of us do. "And what that meant was that he had put up a barrier within to protect himself from further violence; all the apples in the world wouldn't change that fact" (Walker).

Suffering is always associated with the blues, and each of these works contains suffering and pain. Du Bois shows the suffering of the slaves, and how their music helped give them hope. Baldwin shows the life of the inner city blacks, and how they suffered from poverty, drug addiction, and loneliness. The blues helped them escape, and gave their lives meaning and hope. Walker shows the life of a tortured animal, and writes for animal rights activists everywhere when she shows Blue's suffering and pain. She uses the blues to evoke a mood and a feeling of hopelessness rather than hope, along with pain and loneliness. Her story is the most disturbing because it ends hopelessly, with Walker unable to eat meat because of her sad experience with the lonely Blue. "I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out" (Walker). She uses the blues to surround the story with their melancholy and sadness, while others use them to infuse their stories with hope for the future. The music is important to each story in its own unique way, and none of the pieces would be the same without this infusion of music and its meaning. Music has always played a strong part in black American's lives, from the old-time Negro spirituals to urban rap today, and this is why the authors use them to illustrate the most important themes of their stories.

Works Cited

Du Bois, W.E.B. "The Sorrow Songs." Bartleby.com. 2003. 24 March 2003. http://www.bartleby.com/114/14.html

Tsomondo, Thorell. "No Other Tale to Tell: 'Sonny's Blues' and 'Waiting for the Rain.'" Critique XXXVI. Vol. 3. (1995): 195-209.

Walker, Alice. "Am I Blue?" Utne Reader. Jan./Feb. 1989, pp. 98-102. [END OF PREVIEW]

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