Theme Of Sonny's Blues

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In the lyrical and heartrending short story Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin tells the tale of two brothers, both having taken a different path to survive, and how these paths have estranged them. One brother, the narrator and a button-down algebra teacher, lives a straight-forward life with a wife and two kids. The other brother, Sonny, is a heroin hooked, jazz crazed, musician who views life in a much different light. During the course of their difficult relationship the narrator, through remembrance of previous death experiences in his life, acceptance of Sonny’s choices , and hearing Sonny express his sorrows and suffering through his music is able to open his heart to the previously unaccepted Sonny and rekindle their fraternal bond.

After years of non communication between brothers, a single event happens that puts them back in touch. This event is the passing away of the narrator’s daughter Gracie. Sonny writes a letter to the narrator from prison explaining how he got to where he is and how difficult his drug addicted life has been. After this letter the brothers keep in constant contact. "The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It's what they've come from. It's what they endure. The child knows that they won't talk any more because if he knows too much about what's happened to them, he'll know too much too soon, about what's going to happen to him" (pg 137) Just before she dies, his mother tells the narrator about his secret uncle, the brother his father had watched die in a hit-and-run. This was his mother’s way of telling him to look out for Sonny; as not doing so would haunt him as it did his father before him.

At their mother’s funeral, Sonny tells the narrator he wants to be a pianist,...

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...g for only a few minutes, Sonny starts to truly feel the music. The narrator can hear the clarity and freedom echoing from Sonny’s fingers. The narrator envisions Creole telling the other band member and the audience “what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen.” (pg 148) Through the Blues, Sonny has the means to fill the air with life; his life” (pg 145) and the narrator starts to really hear the music. Sonny’s dangerous, drunken blends of music and raw notes from the heart cause the narrator to remember the great misfortune of his parents and the death of his beloved daughter. The narrator realizes why Sonny chose the life he did: unsafe and sorrowful, but infinitely more satisfying in the end.
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