James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues: Music and Imprisonment as Motifs

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Sonny’s Blues
James Baldwin’s short story, Sonny’s Blues, is a story about the narrator’s younger brother, Sonny, who has been in trouble with selling and using heroin, and how the narrator deals with it. Throughout the story, the author uses music and imprisonment as motifs. He also uses rage and fury as a common theme. Blues music, which is characterized as a template of chords with lyrics reflecting sadness and usually pertaining to African Americans, is very similar to Sonny’s Blues. Baldwin uses these motifs and themes to shape the story similar to the musical structure of blues.

Baldwin uses music and imprisonment as motifs. Throughout the story, the narrator learns about Sonny’s love for music and the impact it has on him. Baldwin writes, “For he also had to see that his presence, that music, which was life or death to him […]” to show the importance of music to Sonny, that it was his life. The author also uses imprisonment. The characters are trapped both emotionally and physically. Sonny is trapped by his drug addiction while the narrator is physically trapped in Harlem and emotionally trapped by the barrier to communicate his emotions. Baldwin’s theme, rage and fury, refers to all the anger African Americans have dealt with and the projects of Harlem. He writes, “These boys, now, were living as we'd been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage.” African Americans living in Harlem never really have a chance of escaping, linking to the sense of imprisonment.

Blues music is characterized by specific chord progressions, overlaid with various notes to match pitch. Lyrics involved sadness and reflect, usually pertaining to African Americans. In Sonny’s Blues, the narrator deals with his brother’s drug addiction. Growing up, the two brothers lived in the projects of Harlem and were treated unfairly and unkindly. Also, Baldwin's...
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