The Theme of Identity in Sonny's Blues Essay example

The Theme of Identity in Sonny's Blues Essay example

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James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" highlights the struggle because community involvement and individual identity. Baldwin's "leading theme - the discovery of identity - is nowhere presented more successfully than in the short story 'Sonny's Blues" (Reilly 56). Individuals breeds isolation and even persecution by the collective, dominant community. This conflict is illustrated in three ways. First, the story presents the alienation of Sonny from his brother, the unnamed narrator. Second, Sonny's legal problems suggest that independence can cause the individual to break society's legal conventions. Finally, the text draws heavily from biblical influences. Sonny returns to his family just like the prodigal son, after facing substantial trials and being humiliated. The story's allusion to the parable of the prodigal son reflects Baldwin's profound personal interest in Christianity and the bible.
First of all, the identity of Sonny is contrasted sharply with his brother, the narrator. The most obvious difference between the two is their names. Sonny's name is prominent and part of the story's theme. Sonny's brother, on the other hand, is never given a name. Despite being the voice and the perspective of the story, the narrator does not have a distinct identity. He is known solely by his relationship with others, his status as a brother, a son, a husband and a father.
The omission of the brother's name by the author is clearly intended. By having no defined identity, the brother stands in as the representative of the black community. The narrator is a responsible family man. His job as a high school math teacher illustrates his interest in helping others through education. His decision to marry suggests that he is respons...


... middle of paper ...


...ny does suffer isolation, persecution and imprisonment.
However, he finds redemption in the eyes of his brother without sacrificing his individualism. Sonny manages to use music to bridge the gap, taking a greater responsibility for his reintegration into family and community than the prodigal son.



Works Cited
Albert, Richard. "The Jazz-Blues Motif in James Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues," College Literature Vol. 11, No. 2 (Spring, 1984): 178-185.
Booth, Alison, Hunter, J. Paul and Mays, Kelly (eds.). The Norton Introduction to Literature, Ninth Edition. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.
Reilly, John M. "Sonny's Blues: James Baldwin's Image of black community," Negro American Literature Forum Vol. 4, No. 2 (July, 1970): 55-60.
Tackach, James. "The biblical foundation of James Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues,'" Renascence
Vol. 59, No. 2 (2007): 109-117.

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