Baldwin and his contemporaries, writing in the turbulent period known as the Protest Era sandwiched roughly between the onset of World War II in Europe and the first few years of the civil rights movement, faced a dilemma: Should they strive to develop characters easily identifiable with the majority of the black population, and thereby make those characters’ struggles more relatable to the oppression inherent to the black experience? Or should they aim to create deeper, more complex narratives that, despite often making for a better story, might cause readers to miss the point? Surely, some argued, the two goals could not be mutually exclusive.
“Sonny’s Blues” can be and has been reasonably interpreted as protest literature. Through examination of the text, one can garner a better understanding of the methods James Baldwin used in attempt to answer the aforementioned quest...
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...cribes the decrepit Harlem project buildings as a “parody of the good, clean, faceless life” and “rocks in the middle of the boiling sea.” (Baldwin 1733) In fact, Sonny goes as far as to say the presence of drugs in Harlem is so bad that he wanted to leave the neighborhood just to escape the temptation. (Baldwin 1746) These descriptions are important because the paint the place where the narrator and Sonny live as a bleak, hopeless place. By choosing this as the story’s stage, Baldwin makes it clear he recognizes that setting plays a big part in creating a mood in the reader. The characters are clearly destitute judging by their surroundings, and this helps ensure the reader gets the point that they are downtrodden.
Judging by the aforementioned methods of producing the story, one can see that Baldwin’s approach is effective at producing a potent protest narrative.
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