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James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues Literary Analysis

Sonny’s Blues was written and published in 1957 by James Baldwin. The period places this book at the epicenter of some of the famous movements in American history. The civil rights movement was ripe during its publication period in the United States. The book was also published two and three years after the Rosa parks incident and the ‘Brown v Board of Education.’ James Baldwin wrote and published it a few years before the famous ‘I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King. The narrative commences with a sad story where an individual realizes that his brother is arrested for a drug-related offense. The narrator experiences various devastating incidents throughout, which culminate with some soothing music at the club. The narrator appreciates the importance of Sonny’s Blues in the story as a response to suffering since it helps him find light where there is darkness which makes him practice an act of kindness to show his respect and appreciation.

Throughout the narrative, James Baldwin uses darkness to symbolize some of the struggles and challenges that menace the black American community experience. For instance, in the narrative, when the narrator notifies the audience about his students, he explains that “the only thing they understood was darkness…the darkness of their lives, and was now closing on them”. The quote shows that as the learners or students develop and transition into adulthood, they discover limited opportunities and opportunities (Baldwin, 40). According to the narrator’s perception, many of his students may be following in Sonny’s footsteps already using drugs since they believe it is more beneficial to them than algebra. The movie's darkness is portrayed later in a claim about watching TV. In doing so, Baldwin shows evidence that perhaps most boys are now drawn by entertainment away from their own lives. Although the narrator and Sonny had visited various places worldwide by enlisting in the military, they do not see any progress since they end up going back to their hometown, Harlem (Vitillo, 96). Moreover, although the narrator has also escaped some of the predicaments he incurred as a child, he realizes that his children are still experiencing the same problems he incurred in his childhood. As such, darkness looms over in the narrative, making it almost impossible for the individual to escape its shadow.

The darkness in the narrative also offers a different form of light. Sonny’s favorite night is very dark and lacks enough lighting. It is located on a dim street, and the narrator vividly explains that the lights are dim to such an extent that it was impossible to see clearly. However, there is some level of evidence that Sonny finds refuge in this kind of darkness. For Sonny, he believes that the response to some of his challenges is present in the darkness (Baldwin, 57). When Creole asks Sonny where he has been, Sonny believes that there is no escaping the darkness since it is the only way out of his sorrows. It is the only place he finds peace and refuge. The musicians are even careful not to blur the only lighting place at the stand suddenly since they believe that they may suffer in the end without making the right choices. When the musicians start performing and the light at the stand changes to indigo, they create something fresh and new amid the darkness. In other words, through their hard work and determination, they have created something useful out of nothing.

Although the narrative is explained using music instead of a word, the narrator still feels that the music is the only way the two players can have a conversation. The narrator uses Creole and Sonny as evidence by mentioning that their wordless conversation is directly the opposite of the silence the audience portrays. The assertion is supported by Baldwin’s quote when he states that the narrative of how individuals experiencing challenging times, how they succeed to triumph is not an extraordinary happening. It is the only solution they need in the wake of a difficult moment. Thus, instead of escaping routes from their challenges or difficult moments, they need to improvise through teamwork and establish a new form of light.

James adopted imagery and symbolism in the narrative to help the reader create images and visuals of the plot setting and the conduct of its characters. He uses imagery to help the reader establish the most appropriate main idea the writer wanted his audience to grasp to ensure that the message is appropriately delivered. For instance, in the period when Sonny and his brother share a drink, the crushing of the beer can is evidence of New York City’s hot summers. Moreover, when the narrator narrates the events leading to Sonny Uncle’s demise, the audience's feelings are triggered through the gruesome murder (Shaw, 587). James Baldwin uses New York City as the primary setting of the narrative since it is known for its social and cultural divert. It represents an embodiment of struggles and chaos for oppressed individuals and to some individuals. It is believed that if the narrative setting was in another town, it could lose its primary tension.

James Baldwin attempts to portray the obligation individual possess toward brotherly love. The narrator is given the responsibility to care for his brother Sonny when their mother dies. The relationship and dynamics prevalent between them mirrors the biblical relationship between Abel and Cain. After murdering Abel, Cain raises concerns or questions on whether he should care about his brother. The narrator is also presented with the similar dilemma when his mother dies. Sonny’s life since the demise of their mother has been characterized by drug abuse and prison. The tension prevalent between them is high because Sonny does not want anything to do with the narrator (Rayson). However, regardless of the circumstances, the ideology of brotherly love extends beyond the interaction between Sonny and the narrator into society. It is important to find ways to address the strenuous relationships between individuals since it might affect many individuals unknowingly.

In conclusion, Sonny’s Blues is narrated from an unnamed narrator's perspective that is later identified as Sonny’s brother. The most interesting thing about this novel is that it presented the concept of an obligation to brotherly love in a different context. James Baldwin uses imagery and symbolism to present the theme of the novel. Although darkness is prevalent in most sections of the narrative, the author attempts to make the reader understand some of the ways they can find the light even at the darkest point in their life. Generally, although the book was written and published a few decades ago, James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is an interesting and educational piece of reading which can be captivating to any interested reader of this generation.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny's blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.

Rayson, Ann. Baldwin, James (02 August 1924-30 November 1987). (n.d). Accessed on 22 April 2020 from https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1600069

Vitillo, Robert. Human Suffering. The Furrow, 66(2), 91-98. (2015). Accessed on April 22, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24636071

Shaw, Robert. Controlling darkness: Self, dark, and the domestic night. Cultural Geographies, 22(4), 585-600. (2015). Accessed on April 22, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26168679