Light and Darkness in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

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Light and Darkness in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" the symbolic motif of light and darkness illustrates the painful nature of reality the two characters face as well as the power gained through it. The darkness represents the actuality of life on the streets of the community of Harlem, where there is little escape from the reality of drugs and crime. The persistent nature of the streets lures adolescents to use drugs as a means of escaping the darkness of their lives. The main character, Sonny, a struggling jazz musician, finds himself addicted to heroin as a way of unleashing the creativity and artistic ability that lies within him. While using music as a way of creating a sort of structure in his life, Sonny attempts to step into the light, a life without drugs. The contrasting images of light and darkness, which serve as truth and reality, are used to depict the struggle between Sonny and the narrator in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues." The opening paragraph of the story contains a metaphorical passage: "I stared at it in the swinging light of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside"(349). This reference is significant because it is a contrast to the dismal society that the narrator and his brother Sonny live in. The darkness is the portrayal of the community of Harlem that is trapped, in their surroundings by physical, economic, and social barriers. The obvious nature of darkness has overcome the occupants of the Harlem community. The narrator, an algebra teacher, observes a depressing similarity between his students and his brother, Sonny. This is true because the narrator is fearful for his students falling into a life of crime and drugs, as did his brother. The narrator notes that the cruel realities of the streets have taken away the possible light from the lives of his brother and his students. The narrator makes an insightful connection between the darkness that Sonny faced and the darkness that the young boys are presently facing. This is illustrated in the following quote: "These boys, now, were living as we'd been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities.
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