Research Paper: Sonny's Outline James Baldwin

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[. . .] Later, Sonny left Harlem in order to escape from the heroin use, but was unable to run from his dark feelings. He says, "The reason I wanted to leave Harlem so bad was to get away from the drugs. And then, when I ran away, that's what I was running from" (101). Upon his release from jail he is finally able to come to terms with his emotional problems. He tries to explain to his older brother who functions as the story's narrator but his words do not accurately convey the struggle Sonny has had to deal with. Finally the narrator is able to see "that music, which was life or death for him" would be the only thing to keep Sonny away from harm (96). Only after finally hearing Sonny play, does the truth of his blues become tangible to the narrator.

The roots of Sonny's problems with drugs are all to do with the unaffectionate and uncaring nature of his family life, which he salves by filling his life with music and then heroin. As a young man, he was left alone by his father, his brother, and his mother. In the third blog, the author explains how music fulfills the void of the present and makes a person feel alive. The blogger writes:

I didn't think about my current situation and recent drama, I didn't think about loneliness and the point of human existence. I simply played music. It was transcendental. It's what music is about for me. When the time in the practice space was up, none of us wanted to stop, and two of us continued to play guitar and two of us banged on the drum kit, me going completely apeshit nuts, all of us totally bouncing around and into what we were doing, no self-conscious brainiac bullshit. Pure high (blog 3).

Sonny feels this same way when he plays the jazz piano with his colleagues. This love of music serves as a divisor between reality and fantasy and has definite repercussions in Sonny's daily life. His brother and he are not connected closely, despite how much Sonny needs him. In the letter to the narrator, Sonny writes, "You don't know how much I needed to hear from you" (Baldwin 83). The two brothers have been able to communicate only intermittently throughout their adult lives because of their differing personalities and opposing priorities. This fact is indicated by the narrator's lack of knowledge of his brother's arrest for heroin possession until he reads about it in the newspaper. He says himself, "I haven't seen Sonny for over a year" (80). Sonny would not go willingly to his elder brother for help because he does not feel that his brother can be relied upon for support. If this were not so, then it can be argued that logically Sonny would have called his brother at the time of his incarceration. Even after learning about Sonny's legal problems, his brother does not make much effort to help him out. The narrator says, "He had been picked up, in a raid…for peddling and using heroin. I couldn't find any room for it anywhere inside me" (82). Instead, he writes a letter some time after the arrest, after the death of the narrator's little daughter. He says, "I think that I may have written Sonny the very day that little Gracie was buried…I was sitting in the dark and I suddenly thought of Sonny. My trouble made his real" (97). For the first time in a long while the narrator feels emotional pain, something he has avoided which is why he has also avoided Sonny. It is as though only by experiencing a loss does the narrator have room to allow Sonny into his life. Even though the brothers disconnect emotionally, they are in fact doing the same thing: trying to escape from their pain through some other means than honest emotional confrontation. They do everything to avoid dealing with the pain.

Sonny's older brother is a teacher who does not have time in his life for Sonny which is what leads the younger boy on the path to trouble and his subsequent heroin addiction. Every single day he encounters students who are as young now as when Sonny started using drugs, but he still does not have much empathy for his brother. He says, "I was sure that the first time Sonny had ever had horse, he couldn't have been much older than these boys were now" (Baldwin 79). The narrator has always looked down upon Sonny for this drug use and for wanting to have a living as a musician, which the narrator sees as both unstable and as an invitation to continue with the boy's drug addiction. In discussing addiction with a friend of Sonny's, the narrator learns, "They'll let him out and then it'll just start all over again…He'll never kick the habit" (82). Heroin is one of the worst types of illegal narcotic that a person can use because it is so addicting and thus those who abuse it have a hard time recovering. In fact, many people do not recover and wind up dying from an overdose. Sonny explains how the heroin made him feel when he says, "It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant…It makes you feel in control. Sometimes you've got to have that feeling" (99). Even after his recovery, Sonny knows that he is not free of his addiction, that he will never be free of it. He tells his brother, "It can come again…It can come again" (101). In the book Junky, author William S. Burroughs describes his experiences with the drug. At one point in the narrative, Burroughs writes:

When you give up junk, you give up a way of life. I have seen junkies kick and hit the lush and wind up dead in a few years. Suicide is frequent among ex-junkies. Why does a junkie quit junk of his own will? You never know the answer to that question. No conscious tabulation of the disadvantages and horrors or junk give you the emotional drive to kick (Burroughs 127).

This is what the narrator fears, that Sonny will die and that Sonny, according to this perception, even wants to die (Baldwin 82). More than this, the narrator looks down upon Sonny for needing a way to escape from his suffering and because he is a musician, a career choice that is beneath the narrator. The narrator has also felt pain but has dealt with it through burying his feelings because "there's no way not to suffer" (Baldwin 100). Sonny needs something to fulfill his void, instead of being able to repress the sadness and despair as the older man does. This is explained in Sonny's letter to his brother where he writes: "I can't tell you much about how I got here. I guess I was afraid of something or trying to escape from something and you know I have never been very strong in the head" (Baldwin 86). He says himself that his life has been full of trouble and suffering and he needed to find a way to escape from his dreary life. The reasons for Sonny's unhappiness and subsequent addiction are numerable, including that the boys' father was emotionally abusive and Sonny could not tolerate him (Baldwin 86). Their father was a drunkard who did because of his addiction to drink. It is unknown the extent of the father's actions because the narrator seems adamant to defend the man, even in death. He says, "[Father] wasn't, ever, really as bad as he sounded, not even on weekends, when he got drunk" (Baldwin 86). Riding home with Sonny from the airport, the narrator remarks about their differences and the pain that they both experienced, saying, "It came to me that we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind" (87). They are seeing the world from two different perspectives and neither is able to see the world through his brother's eyes. Years before, when the older brother tried to take control of Sonny's life, he was already addicted and unwilling to change his behaviors, even if they were for his own betterment. The authority figure in his life tried to take away the two things that Sonny depended on to survive. Sonny turned to drugs because dealing with the real world was not a possibility for him at that time.

Sonny had no authority figure in his formative years and the narrator had promised that he would look after the younger boy. The breach of this promise led Sonny to learn that he alone would have to find ways to save himself. Before her death, their mother had explained to the narrator how their father changed after the death of his younger brother and makes him pledge to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Sonny's Outline James Baldwin.  (2012, October 28).  Retrieved December 9, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sonny-outline-james-baldwin/1901552

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"Sonny's Outline James Baldwin."  28 October 2012.  Web.  9 December 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sonny-outline-james-baldwin/1901552>.

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"Sonny's Outline James Baldwin."  Essaytown.com.  October 28, 2012.  Accessed December 9, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sonny-outline-james-baldwin/1901552.