Communicating Through Music in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

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Historically, strong family relationships have been emphasized by American society. Strong family ties have been significant to maintaining healthy lifestyles and relationships across many cultures, including African American culture. Sonny, the younger brother in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”, has suffered from a heroin addiction which caused him to separate from both his parents and his older brother. The essay portrays two brothers who struggle with their difficult Harlem environment, cultural issues, and their emotional detachment from one another. As the brothers struggle with their inner conflicts and outward environmental struggles, they are reunited through a common theme in the essay: music. Baldwin empowers Sonny with a gift of extraordinary musicianship, and uses this gift to enlighten and empower the narrator. Baldwin’s essay narrates the trials of the narrator on his journey to self- discovery and the brothers trial of rebuilding their brotherly bond with music as their guide. The essay uses music as a form of communication between the brothers and symbolizes it as a powerful force in their relationship. In Baldwin’s essay, “Sonny’s Blues”, the narrator and Sonny are empowered through music, and through this empowerment, the music is able to rekindle and rebuild the brothers relationship.

During the first half of the 20th century, Harlem became a mecca for African American culture and ideas. Home to the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem housed many influential African American leaders and influenced much of African American culture of the 20th century. Harlem’s population exploded during the 1920s-30s due to the Harlem Renaissance, and continued to expand until reaching its peak during the 1950s. The decade of the 195...

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...frican American Musicians as Artists, Critics, and Activists. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002. 54-100. EBSCOhost. Web. 8 May 2015.

"Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Sheets-Nesbitt. Vol. 33. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. 115-157. Literature Criticism Online. Gale. Web. 3 May 2015.

Tracey, Sherard. "Sonny’s Bebop: Baldwin's "Blues Text" as Intracultural Critique." African American Review32.4 (1998): 691-705. JSTOR. Web. 9 May 2015.


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