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James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues”



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    In James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues”, “blues” plays a very important part, even the story itself is a “blues”, there is a mood of unhappy throughout the whole story. Also, this is a story about being safe and taking risk, and between the meaning of “blues” itself and for the story, we can some relations in terms of this theme. “Blues” is a kind of music that to express a sad mood. It is synonymous with low spirits and depressed emotion. The “blues”, both as a state of being and as music, are basic to the structure of the story, and both the narrator and his brother Sonny have had their share.

    The contradictory lives of the two brothers contribute to the theme of being safe and take risks. In this story, Baldwin writes about two brothers who grew together. As each of the boys grew older, they fell apart from one another and lived two completely different lives. The narrator, who is the older brother, seemed to be more conservative and more determined for a good future. Sonny, the younger brother, was more free-willed and did not even know what his plans were for the next hour, much less for the rest of his life. The narrator’s major source of discontent has been his selfish desire to assimilate and lead a “respectable,” safe life as a high-school algebra teacher. When he learns of Sonny’s troubles with drugs and the law, he feels threatened. For him, the way he lives now is safe, and all Sonny does are dangerous.

    Baldwin carefully establishes the brothers as opposites. The narrator is acautious, respectable family man. He teaches math and is proud of his professional standing. Living in a Harlem housing project, he consciously protects himself from the dangers that surround him. Sonny, by contrast, is a romantic artist who is notafraid of taking risks to pursue the things he desires. His passion for music makes him impatient with everything else. He drops out of school. In his brother’s view he is “wild” but not “hard or evil or disrespectful.”However, Sonny also tries to stay away from danger. It is not his wish that to live a corrupted life like he had. He has several things that he is trying to escape, He tries to escape by joining the military, but fails. He tries to escape through drugs and fails. The drugs become another thing to try and escape but only compound his problem. Later, he decides that the only escape he can get from his problems is those moments when he can immerse himself in his music. He realizes that the problems are real and that he can’t truly escape them. Music becomes his escape. Perhaps there is no way that we can absolutely stay out of danger, like Sonny’s father said that there is no safe place for anyone, or just like Sonny says that Sonny says there is no way not to suffer.


    James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues”. (2019, Feb 09). Retrieved from

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