Suffering as a Common Denominator

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“Sonny’s Blues” is a short story in which James Baldwin, the author, presents an existential world where suffering characterizes a man’s basic state. The theme of tragedy and suffering can be transformed into a communal art form such as blues music. Blues music serves as a catalyst for change because the narrator starts to understand that not only the music but also himself and his relationship with Sonny. The narrator’s view of his brother begins to change; he understands that Sonny uses music as an exit of his suffering and pain. This story illustrates a wide critical examination. Richard N. Albert is one critic that explores and analyzes the world of “Sonny’s Blues”. His analysis, “The Jazz-Blues Motif in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”” is an example of how one can discover plot, characterization and jazz motif that builds this theme of suffering.

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients that make up the plot: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice. In the beginning of the story, the narrator reads in the newspaper about Sonny’s arrest for using and selling heroin. This causes the narrator to reflect on his and Sonny’s pasts. He doesn’t understand why Sonny does drugs and feels helpless. This is where we see the narrator’s suffering and pain. He is scared for Sonny and doesn’t know how to help him. Baldwin writes, “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice. . . . Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I ...

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... themes of individualism and alienation. The chief value of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time. In doing so, it gives connotation to all those indefinable aspects of experience which nevertheless helps us make what we are.

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