The story “Sonny’s Blues” By James Baldwin is about a jazz musician and his brother in 1950’s Harlem. The story centers on Sonny who uses jazz music as an escape from his depression. James Baldwin captures the art of jazz during this time period. The themes in this short story are perhaps varied, but all of them revolve around some form of suffering. One theme shows how music can promote change and understanding within relationships. A second theme reveals suffering caused by guilt. Yet another theme references the results of suffering brought about by searching for ones’ identity and how that leads to misunderstanding. There are also subthemes concerning racism and poverty.
"Sonny's Blues" is filled with examples of music and how it makes things better. The schoolboy, the barmaid, the mother, the brother, the uncle, the street revivalists, all use music to create a moment when life isn't so ugly, even though the world still waits outside and trouble stretches above. Music and the tale it tells provide hope and joy; instead of being the instrument of Sonny's destruction, introducing him to the world of drugs, music is his way out of some of the ugliness. For Sonny and the other characters in this story, music is a bastion against the despair that pervades stunted lives; it is the light that guides them from the darkness without hope.
James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues tells the story of the narrator and his brother and the hardships that they must endure. As Kahlil Gibran States “Out of suffering have emerged the strangest souls, the most massive characters are seared with scars.” (Gibran). In that very quote the real light is shown as it informs the reader that with suffering comes growth and once the person whomever it may be emerges out of the darkness they may have scars but it has made them stronger. The theme of light and darkness as well as suffering play a vital part in this story. For both men there are times in which they have the blues and suffer in the darkness of their lives but music takes the suffering from them.
James Baldwin was an African-American writer who grew up in Harlem and was considered one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. He achieved this status through his use of racial and social issues within many of his masterpieces. His experience with discrimination, poverty, and drugs lead him to write many short stories about the struggles African-Americans faced in America. His style is considered one of the most distinctive styles in American literature. “Sonny’s Blues” was one of James Baldwin’s earlier masterpieces and is set in Harlem, New York just like many of his other literary works of art. The short story is about two estranged African-American brothers and how “that relationship has moved through phases of separation and return”
All of humanity suffers at one point or another during the course of their lives. It is in this suffering, this inevitable pain, that one truly experiences life. While suffering unites humankind, it is how we choose to cope with this pain that defines us as individuals. The question becomes do we let suffering consume us, or do we let it define our lives? Through James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues”, the manner by which one confronts the light and darkness of suffering determines whether one is consumed by it, or embraces it in order to “survive.” Viewing a collection of these motifs, James Baldwin’s unique perspective on suffering as a crucial component of human development becomes apparent. It is through his compassionate portrayal of life’s inescapable hardships that one finds the ability to connect with humankind’s general pool of hardship. James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” makes use of the motifs of darkness and light to illuminate the universal human condition of suffering and its coping mechanisms.
In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” the unspoken brotherly bond between the narrator and his younger brother Sonny is illustrated through the narrator’s point of view. The two brothers have not spoken in years until the narrator receives a letter from Sonny after his daughter dies. He takes this moment as an important sign from Sonny and feels the need to respond. While both Sonny and the narrator live in separate worlds, all Sonny needs is a brother to care for him while the narrator finds himself in the past eventually learning his role as an older brother.
In "Sonny's Blues" James Baldwin presents an intergenerational portrait of suffering and survival within the sphere of black community and family. The family dynamic in this story strongly impacts how characters respond to their own pain and that of their family members. Examining the central characters, Mama, the older brother, and Sonny, reveals that each assumes or acknowledges another's burden and pain in order to accept his or her own situation within an oppressive society. Through this sharing each character is able to achieve a more profound understanding of his own suffering and attain a sharper, if more precarious, notion of survival.
Several passages found throughout "Sonny's Blues" indicate that as a whole, the neighborhood of Harlem is in the turmoil of a battle between good and evil. The narrator describes Sonny's close encounters with the evil manifested in drugs and crime, as well as his assertive attempts at distancing himself from the darker side. The streets and communities of Harlem are described as being a harsh environment which claims the lives of many who have struggled against the constant enticement of emotional escape through drugs, and financial escape through crime. Sonny's parents, just like the others in Harlem, have attempted to distance their children from the dark sides of their community, but inevitably, they are all aware that one day each child will face a decisionb for the first time. Each child will eventually join the ranks of all the other members of society fighting a war against evil at the personal level so cleanly brought to life by James Baldwin. Amongst all the chaos, the reader is introduced to Sonny's special secret weapon against the pressures of life: Jazz. Baldwin presents jazz as being a two-edged sword capable of expressing emotions like no other method, but also a presenting grave danger to each individual who bears it. Throughout the the story, the reader follows Sonny's past and present skirmishes with evil, his triumphs, and his defeats. By using metaphorical factors such as drugs and jazz in a war-symbolizing setting, Baldwin has put the focus of good and evil to work at the heart of "Sonny's Blues."
Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." The Norton introduction to Fiction. 6th ed. Ed. Jerome Beaty. New York: Norton, 1996. 47-70.
Brothers tend to grow apart yet eventually find a way to revive an old beat up relationship. These brothers grew up on the rough streets of Harlem and went their separate ways. Sonny was a drug-addicted musician and his older brother was a high school algebra teacher with a family. The way the two brothers reunite through addiction, memories and strife make their bond seem stronger than ever. Sonny’s Blues, by James Baldwin, is a story about enlightenment through brotherhood when Sonny and his brother go to the club.