Essay about Symbolism in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

Essay about Symbolism in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

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Symbolism in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues
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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."

At several points in the story, Baldwin emphasizes the quickness at which Harlem residents fall to the pull of evil. The children of Harlem are de...


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...open, Creole wishes him Godspeed and allows Sonny to musically weave the tale of his past: "Sonny's fingers filled the air with life, his life" (94). This high plateau of expression is the untainted counterpart to the effects of heroin. This is the major turning point in the story: the point at which Sonny triumphs over the dark side and finally finds a firm grip among the freedom-fighting soldiers of Harlem.

All three of these symbolical details are woven together in "Sonny's Blues" to create a non-literal meaning directly beneath the words. The end result is an enriched message about urban struggles for expression, happiness, and chemical independance. Ultimately, Sonny's revival concludes the readers' literary tour of world in which he lives. What is begun with a presentation of hardships is finally concluded with Sonny's triumph, a chance at a better future.

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