The first conflict that Baldwin introduces is the clash between the narrator’s expectations and Sonny’s desires. As the more responsible and settled of the two brothers, the narrator is of course tasked with taking care of Sonny after his parent’s death. His mother pleads with him, “You got to hold on to your brother…and don’t let him fall, no matter what is looks like is happening to him…” (Baldwin 30). Seven years older than Sonny and working as an Algebra teacher, he seems to have escaped the dark depravity of Harlem and found a small measure of peace and happiness with his ...
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...t and even embrace their suffering so that their lives can continue. His reference to the cup of trembling is not merely a symbol of suffering, but also a reference to the sorrow that Jesus Christ willingly embraced – a sorrow with which Baldwin’s intended audience would have been very familiar. Although Sonny’s life is indeed about non-conformity and individualism, it is also about reconciliation: not just the reconciliation of two brothers, but also peace between the African community and the injuries (both mental and physical) that they had endured. The past will never vanish, no matter how stubbornly we try to escape it; Baldwin’s question to his readers is how we will allow it to shape our present and future.
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Jazz Fiction Anthology. Ed. Sascha Feinstein and David Rife. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. 17-48.
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