Literary Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James BaldwinI. IntroductionSonny’s Blues is a short story by New York-raised writer James Baldwin, whose works mostly deal with racial and sexual discrimination in 20th-century America. The story, based off Baldwin’s brother of the same name, is set in Harlem, New York in 1957, a time when racism raged and poverty prevailed.
It follows the struggle of two brothers—the narrator, a high school teacher, and Sonny, a jazz pianist—to understand each other, and in the process explores the struggles of a black family to get by in a white-dominated society.
II. Plot summaryThe story starts with Sonny’s brother in the subway, silently reeling from the news of his brother’s incarceration. His brother had been in a run-in with the law for dealing heroine, and the incident nags at him throughout the day.
Having distanced himself from his brother for years, the narrator is stoic about the whole incident until Sonny himself arrives in New York.
As they spend the next few weeks together, the narrator comes to understand Sonny’s story, and the suffering that brought about his love of music and his heroine addiction. Gradually, the brothers bridge the gap they had built over the years and accept the different ways in which they dealt with their fates.III.
AnalysisSipiora says that a story’s characters may or may not perceive the situations they are in, and thus may or may not be acting in good faith. It is thus important to analyze Sonny’s Blues, and judge its characters, in terms of what drives their thoughts and actions. The two brothers in Sonny’s Blues decidedly belong to the latter, as they regard each other in ways directly influenced by their own experiences. The narrator’s scorn at Sonny’s chosen profession is driven by his dislike of musicians in general, and Sonny turns to the blues in reaction to the social hatred he experiences.
Sonny’s Blues shows, in a way, the gradual shedding of this prejudice. It starts when he meets a friend of Sonny’s, a seasoned heroin addict, on the way home from work. In a sudden bout of hatred, he tells the friend he does not want to hear his “sad story.” But almost immediately, he feels a pang of regret and realizes that this person was dealing with his own demons.
More importantly, they shared the same sad story: dealing with Sonny’s arrest.It ends, of course, the day he comes to see Sonny perform at a Harlem club. As he listens to Sonny’s blues, “I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth. He had made it his: that long line, of which we knew only Mama and Daddy.
And he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that, passing through death, it can live forever.” Sonny explains further that “music is his voice,” his way of releasing the feelings he had kept inside for years.IV. Characters and themesTwo recurring themes in the story are suffering and allusions to “darkness.
” It is essentially a look into the suffering of black people in America, perhaps best exemplified in the passage where Sonny’s uncle is killed by a truck of drunken whites. Although there are few other displays of racism, its influences are felt, in an almost omnipresent way, throughout the story. The boys’ father suffers from the memory of his brother, whose death he witnessed firsthand. Their mother suffers from seeing them suffer, and knowing that young Sonny suffers the most.
The narrator also suffers, although he has blended into Harlem better than the rest of his family. He deals with the death of his daughter, his brother’s arrest, and an inner struggle for identity, as he tries to reconcile the life he had forged as a normal schoolteacher with the poverty and discrimination he grew up with. The story itself shows how his personal issues come to define, and eventually change, his feelings toward his brother.Darkness is first mentioned in one of the narrator’s flashbacks, where he reflects on the “two darknesses” that kids grew up knowing.
These were the darkness of their own lives, and the darkness that the movies have wrought on their imaginations. But it may also be read on a more upfront level: the darkness of their skin, which, as it does today, makes all the difference. This physical darkness shadows over their lives, but it also drives them into the paths they choose—the narrator in his steady if conventional career, Sonny in his eccentricity, and their father in his vehement hatred towards whites.The contrast between the two brothers is clear from the outset: the narrator teaches algebra, an exact, black-and-white discipline, while Sonny is a musician with only raw emotion to drive his craft.
Baldwin uses ice and blood as metaphors to distinguish the ways in which each brother deals with emotion. Early in the story, the narrator describes his feelings as “a great block of ice settled in my belly… [sending] trickles of water down my veins.” It shows that he deals with emotion by freezing it, so that he appears cool and collected on the outside. But as Sonny plays in the bar, the narrator realizes that “…I was in Sonny’s world… Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood.
” Sonny, unlike his brother, allows emotion to run through him and into his music. Indeed, it is ultimately Sonny’s music—Sonny’s blues—that drives the evolution of their relationship.Works Cited:Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.
” Sipiora, Phillip. Reading and Writing About Literature. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2002.
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Cite this Literary Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
Literary Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/literary-analysis-of-sonnys-blues-by-james-baldwin/