Sonny's Blues

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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.

James Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem, New York to an unwed mother. His mother married David Baldwin, a strict preacher who never accepted James. The oldest of nine children, Baldwin grew up in extreme poverty. Baldwin lived in Harlem until he moved to Paris due to the racial injustices. He returned to the United States in 1957 and became a major part of the civil rights movement. As one of the most popular authors of his time, Baldwin wrote about different problems such as sexual identity, family, church and life as an African American. (Rampersad) In “Sonny’s Blues,” he shows how a brother uses music to ease his suffering. James Baldwin was able to relate to the pain and suffering that jazz represents.

Jazz music prospered in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Jazz was created by African Americans to represent pain and suffering and also represented the adversity that racial tension brought. (Scholastic) African American performers like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker came to be recognized for their ability to overcome “race relati...

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...ne’s suffering are portrayed throughout the story. It eventually leads to a deeper understanding between Sonny and his brother. This has changed and improved their relationship. The brother, through his guilt, came to recognize his role in Sonny’s life. He finally was able to understand what his mother was asking of him. Through the renewal of their relationship, they both learn to accept each other as the persons they really are. Sonny and his brother grew up under the same circumstances; poverty, the temptations that exist from living in Harlem and the racial injustices that exist during this time period. They learn to deal with their individual sufferings in their own way. Suffering can be an intense experience, but can lead to a self awareness that would not otherwise be acknowledged without it.

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