The Importance of Music in “Sonny’s Blues”
James Baldwin, an African-American writer, was born to a minister in 1924 and survived his childhood in New York City. The author is infamous for his pieces involving racial separatism with support from the blues. Readers can understand Harlem as a negative, unsafe environment from Baldwin’s writings and description of his hometown as a “dreadful place…a kind of concentration camp” (Hicks). Until the writer was at the age of twenty-four, he lived in a dehumanizing, racist world where at ten years old, he was brutally assaulted by police officers for the unchanging fact that he is African-American. In 1948, Baldwin escaped to France to continue his work without the distractions of the racial injustice issues occurring in Harlem. His getaway to Europe resulted in two published pieces. After hearing of activists in the civil rights movement, Baldwin felt the need to return to New York and accept his title as a “Negro writer” (Hicks). Shortly after his move back to Harlem in 1957, the author published perhaps his most disclosing short story, “Sonny’s Blues”. Baldwin often took his experiences and portrayed them in his writings, especially in this particular short story. “Sonny’s Blues” revolves around the relationship of two brothers who had grown up in Harlem, surrounded by discrimination. The narrator, who is never given a name, suffers with racial identity issues and the loss of his daughter, while his brother, Sonny, is lost due to the use of drugs. Overall, in James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues”, two brothers come to individual fulfillment through the sound of an African-American cultural aspect, jazz blues.
Jazz music is of great importance to the black heritage. The blues...
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...of “that thump and then that silence” frightened Isabel, the narrator’s wife and Grace’s mother, after hearing her daughter fall and no subsequent sound. The mother knew of the darkness of silence, as it beckoned her to run for Grace. The little girl could not scream due to loss of breath, which concluded with death from polio. This unfortunate event is yet another symbol interlaced within the short story. “The loss of grace is the loss of voice and sound…there is a suggestion that Sonny, a metaphorically lost child, might yet regain or reclaim a state of grace through his music” (Kowalska). Indeed, Sonny finds his voice through music in which contains no lyrics. What words cannot do, Sonny does through music. None the less, negativism of silence in “Sonny’s Blues” supports the symbolization of jazz music as being essential to optimism in an African American’s life.
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