In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, and August Wilson’s “Fences” we can see the similarities and differences in how the African American community is perceived after gaining their freedom and assimilating into normal society. “Sonny’s Blues” shows us how Sonny turned to a life of drugs when he could not deal with the reality of the ceiling put into place by society. The “Invisible Man” shows us the struggle the narrator has with society when he realizes that the people around him don’t care about his well being or other African Americans who have been assimilating into everyday free life and that there are ceilings put in place to keep himself and others were they are in the hierarchy of society. “Fences” shows us the struggle that Troy has with his job and family and the realization that he has ceilings in place that will not allow him to move forward in society. This essay will examine the similarities to how the characters perceive their lives are being held back by societal ceilings that have been put in place and the differences in how they deal with them to make their life seem better.
“Sonny’s Blues” we have Sonny, a musician, who turns to drugs at a young age because he can’t deal with the complexities of life. The narrator, Sonny’s brother, tries to reason with him and to let him know that he needs to find something in his life: “you getting to be a big boy… it’s time you started thinking about your future” (Baldwin 490). Here Sonny is realizing that even at a young age there are ceilings in life that one can’t overcome and he did not want to go through the doldrums of life: “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for” (Baldwin 134)? The Sonny’s brother tried to make things right for him so that he could try to get through school so that he could move on with his life from there. From this point Sonny lived with his sister-in-law and her parents where she lamented the fact “that it wasn’t like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound” (Baldwin 492). Her Isabel shows that Sonny was wrapping himself in his music so as to escape the problems of life and to hopefully find his mark in the music world. He was doing this so as to do what he wanted in life and that way he was not being held down by anyone else but himself. His life came crashing down around him when Isabel’s family realized “he hadn’t been going to school” (Baldwin 492). Here Sonny picked up and left and joined the Navy because he “wanted to leave Harlem so bad… to get away from the drugs” (Baldwin 500).
“Invisible Man” shows how being African American you can feel as if the world doesn’t know you even exist. The narrator begins by leaving his building and “at the entrance (he) bumped against a woman who called (him) a filthy name” (Ellison 675). As he goes through the streets angry at thoughts running through his mind he realizes that he is invisible to the people around him. He stopped by a store window and saw “ointments guaranteed to produce the miracle of whitening black skin” (Ellison 676). This enraged him as he walked on where he purchases a yam to eat. The yam vendor seems to care about him at this moment but is really trying to make a sale more than a friend. Her he sees a seen unfold with a proper African American man is bellowing nonsense at the top of his lungs and how he reverted to “field-niggerism” (Ellison 678). He then reflects on what would happen if he was to see this man be shamed in front of his white employers or perceived friends and how “his rivals would denounce him as a bad example for the youth” and so on (Ellison 678). He proceeds on down the street only to get caught by a scene that many were gathering to watch. There was an elderly African American woman who was being evicted out of her apartment in the snow. The people around did not seem to rush to aid her but rather stand and watch the scene unfold...
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