Sonny's Blues Essay

Pages: 4 (1334 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Music

¶ … Sonny's Blues:" Sonny's blues and Sonny's joy -- self-knowledge, jazz and the African-American experience in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" evolves as a comparison between the characters of the narrator (a math teacher) and his brother Sonny (a former heroin addict and jazz musician). While on the surface it may seem as if the narrator is by far the more responsible of the two, the narrative reveals that he is just as incomplete as his brother. His brother has detached himself from conventional society in pursuit of jazz music. However, the narrator is not even capable of understanding blues music, which Baldwin suggests is an essential component of modern black identity. Through their reconciliation, both brothers are healed. Thus "Sonny's Blues" is not merely the story of the narrator's experiences as he observes his brother's rehabilitation; it is the tale of his inner transformation and spiritual growth which his earlier experiences of death and loss have motivated.

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At the beginning of "Sonny's Blues," the narrator is haunted by a sense of guilt and frustration about his brother's addiction and what he regards as his brother's wasted life. He reflects: "here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe it did more for them than algebra could" (Baldwin 1). Unlike Sonny, the narrator has garnered a respectable job and a relatively secure place in society. But he is acutely aware of his inability to save his brother and also the fact that his teaching is unlikely to have a meaningful impact upon the lives of most of the boys in his care. He reflects that the young students are around the age that Sonny likely began using 'horse.' His inability to make them care about algebra is a metaphor for his inability to make Sonny care about anything.

Essay on Sonny's Blues:" Sonny's Blues and Assignment

Sonny, having recently returned from jail, meets with his brothers and immediately the two of them are at odds. The two of them clearly have different worldviews, both incomplete. The narrator has rejected many historical aspects of black experience, including jazz, evidently in his need to maintain a facade of social respectability but also because he looks down upon the idea of life as a spiritual quest. Sonny is not a mere stereotype of an African-American heroin user -- he clearly has always desired some form of spiritual enlightenment, and drug use is merely a symptom of this, not the root cause of his troubles. "Years ago, when he was around fourteen, he'd been all hipped on the idea of going to India. He read books about people sitting on rocks, naked, in all kinds of weather, but mostly bad, naturally, and walking barefoot through hot coals and arriving at wisdom" (Baldwin 6).

Sonny is a musician, evidently a good one, but his exposure to the world of drug addiction has robbed him of this important part of his life for many years. The narrator, despite his evident surface calm (which he maintains under most circumstances throughout the narrative) is clearly disturbed by going back with Sonny to see their childhood home in Harlem. For the narrator, Harlem represents aspects of black experience he thought he had left behind; for Sonny, it is the childhood that eventually drove him to use drugs. "The moment Sonny and I started into the house I had the feeling that I was simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying" (Baldwin 7). The narrator notes that the neighborhood they grew up in is largely regarded as dangerous but even though the sons' relatively middle class parents could likely have afforded to have moved. The father always insisted that no place in the world was safe for children, and thus believed it was pointless to move. This insecurity is reflected in both the home and the social environment in which… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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