Communication in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

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“Sonny’s Blues” is a well known short story, written by James Baldwin. The main conflict in the story is communication between brothers and finding a way to understand each other. Sonny’s brother, who is the narrator of the story, finds himself comfortable teaching algebra that “suggests his desire for standard procedures and elegant, clear-cut solutions” (Murray 353), while Sonny’s passion is playing jazz. The narrator has a hard time understanding Sonny and believes that Sonny’s interest for music is temporary. He wants Sonny to live with his wife’s family and go to school. However, Sonny finds it hard to go to school every day since music is all he wants to do. When the narrator finds out that Sonny was arrested for using and selling heroin, he cannon believe that it would happen to Sonny, although deep down inside he knew it might. Only by the end does the narrator understand Sonny and feel his pain.

There are many critical articles written about “Sonny’s Blues”. Some critics believe that the conflict is mainly about Sonny, or the narrator. Others think it’s about a conflict between brothers. One critic, Suzy Bernstein Goldman, says that “Sonny’s Blues” is “about communication between people” (Goldman 231) and that music saves them at the end while another critic, Donald C. Murray, believes that Baldwin “deals with man’s need to find his identity in a hostile society” (Murray 353) and the meaning of this story is not just about communication but about love. While both of them are true, the main conflict of this story is about understanding one another.

When Sonny was a teenager, his brother wanted Sonny to stay with his wife’s family and go to school like every other normal kid. Sonny’s brother believed that education is t...

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...t if he opens up to Sonny he would have to open up to himself. And that was scary to him. Only his personal pain over the loss of his beloved daughter makes him understand Sonny’s sorrow. Only then, does the narrator begin to communicate with Sonny and hear his side of the story. He realizes that people who he loves can be gone in an instant and that every moment should be treasured. Only in the end, does the narrator see everything very clear. He sees Sonny’s pain, and his life passing through his eyes. Not only does the narrator see Sonny but he sees himself and it helps him understand what life is about. Through music he understands that love can save them. And there is nothing more important that family.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Jazz Fiction Anthology. Ed. Sascha Feinstein and David Rife. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. 17-48.
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