Darkness, “Sonny’s Blues”, and Light
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is about two brothers, Sonny and the unnamed narrator. The story chronicles a part of their lives. It begins with Sonny’s drug arrest. The tale then travels back to Sonny’s teenage years and ends up with Sonny living with his brother after his arrest. The story uses imagery throughout the tale. One of the most used is that of the contrast of light and darkness. This becomes the theme of the story. Even though Sonny has struggled with a drug problem and arrest readers may wonder who is in more darkness.
In the opening paragraph of the story the narrator is reading the newspaper while riding the subway on his way to teach school. While reading he learns that his brother has been arrested for drugs. He comments about reading the story in the paper and also seeing it in the lights of the subway car, the other people in the subway car, and his own face that he refers to being trapped in the darkness. The narrator is able to see his face in the window of the car due to traveling through the dark tunnels and the lights inside the car cause the window to become a see-through mirror. This makes his reflection appear to be outside the car following along in the darkness. This is actually a foreshadowing image as later in the story it becomes apparent that the narrator is in as much if not more darkness than Sonny. (43)
The second reference is only of darkness. The narrator speaks of the kids he is teaching as having two different types of darkness. One darkness is their lives and it is closing in on them. The other darkness was the movies. He states that the movies blind them to the darkness of their lives or at least the fact of its closing. This image given by the narrator begins to reveal the pessimistic attitude of the narrator towards life. (44)
The next reference again only refers to the dark. The narrator is talking to a friend of Sonny’s. The friend is explaining how he never gave Sonny any drugs, but he did feel guilty because he explained to Sonny in school how it felt to get high. As this is told to the narrator he refers to menace filling everything around him including the dark. The narrator speaks about the menace being the reality of the people around him. He still could not see his own darkness that was around him. (45)
Sonny writes a letter to his brother in which he compares his situation as being in a hole and trying to climb out. He states how he had just seen the sun and needed to get outside. This is where the story shows that Sonny recognized the dark that enveloped him and wanted to find a way to escape from it.(46)
Light is again referred to without darkness. When the narrator is reunited with Sonny he sees his baby brother inside this person before him “like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light.” (47) The narrator shows his brother as being surrounded by darkness. The narrator recognizes that his brother wants to get out of the darkness.
On the way to the narrator’s home Sonny wants to take a trip through the areas where they had grown up. The narrator talks about how things there have changed but have stayed the same. He talks about how the boys come out of their homes and into the street to try to get into the light just like he did when he was young. The fact that the children’s homes were filled with darkness could be a hint of abuse in the house but more likely in the time and area that many of the houses would not have power. Either way the narrator is still continuing to see the world through eyes filled with despair. (48)
The narrator recalls his childhood on Sundays when everyone would be gathered together and spending the day together. As it became night the darkness grew against the windowpanes. The faces of the adults would grow dark. A silence would come over. The darkness coming and the darkness in the faces of the...