Light versus Dark: Battle or Balance?
James Baldwin’s authorial attitude in “Sonny’s Blues” represents his view that in order to escape the metaphorical darkness and reach the light, Sonny must strike a balance between his personal lightness and darkness. James Baldwin uses powerful diction and the narration of Sonny’s escape to prove this.
James Baldwin uses powerful descriptive language to create Harlem’s dark image, one that particularly, Sonny desperately wants to escape. Baldwin hyperbolizes Harlem’s buildings to show that the narrators believes that Harlem represents a dark place that oppresses Sonny: But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we had once been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. (Baldwin 8) This line describes the darkness, but also implies that it will forever cloak Harlem because it truly remains the same. Harlem’s powerful darkness extensively affects its residents, including Sonny, and in turn, they become bleak and depressed. Sonny says “every face looks darkening, like the sky outside” (Baldwin 10) to exemplify his negative outlook, as well as the condition Harlem’s residents. Even Harlem’s young and innocent residents, impervious to Harlem’s gloom, receive an indirect impact: “The silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces frighten the children obscurely” (Baldwin 14). Baldwin’s dark imagery acutely describes Harlem’s tumultuous nature, providing Sonny multiple reasons to desire an escape.
Although Baldwin heavily emphasizes Harlem’s darkness, he hints that its antithesis may not be much more preferable. Baldwin underscores light versus dark throughout the story; however, at one point, he seemingly undermines the idea that light reveals positivity and writes: “the bright sun deadened his damp dark brown skin and it made his eyes look yellow and showed...
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