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Light and Dark in the Book Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

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In James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues” there is a constant contrast between light and dark. Baldwin uses this theme to highlight the struggles that the Narrator and his younger brother, Sonny, both face. Light represents all of the positive aspects of life. Meanwhile, the darkness represents the constant struggle that threatens the characters in the story. Light and dark has a presence in both characters. The narrator lives his life in the “light”. He is a teacher, middleclass man, a man who has a wife and family. For the narrator, the darkness is his constant reflections on his brother, and his sense of guilt or blame for being the reason why Sonny turned to a life of drugs. The darkness represents Sonny in a way. He is a recovering drug addict that just finished serving time in prison. When he was released from prison his brother was there to meet him. He finds his reemergence into the world through his love for music. For Sonny, music is his guiding light.

From the beginning, the narrator introduces the imagery of light and dark that will come to be the dominating theme of the story. In the first scene, the narrator is contemplating Sonny's fate in the dark subway. The "swinging lights of the subway car" allow him to read about Sonny's arrest, while the "darkness roared outside" (91). While seemingly just a very illustrative description, it soon becomes obvious that the use of the premises of light and dark in the story are the most significant in the story because the relationship between the two concepts mirror the lives of the two brothers. Just an elementary school algebra teacher, the narrator describes many of the students he teaches as being "filled with rage." He then says that these boys know only two "darkn...

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...s long as one is able to endure the suffering everyone must undergo without destroying yourself, you are just as good as the next man.

Sonny's Blues tells the story of the struggle with life and acceptance that many people today face. The narrator has assimilated into society as much as possible, but still understands his limits as a black man. Contrarily, Sonny has never tried to conform and travels a troubled path trying find an outlet for the deep pain and suffering that his status as a permanent outcast forces upon him. Sonny channels his suffering into music and he and his brother are finally able to connect through something in which they never thought existed: the light that Sonny's dark world birthed.

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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