James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues: The Struggle of a Jazz Musician

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James Baldwin's essay "Sonny's Blues" is a story of the struggle of a jazz musician, Sonny, growing up in the harlem renaissance. It is told by the musician's brother who takes Sonny into his own home after being released from heroin rehabilitation. The story examines Sonny's path as a musician but has an underlying theme of the suffrage and attempted escape of Harlem residents at this point in history. Baldwin justifies Sonny's drug habit by showing empathy for his struggle to obtain creative relief.

Sonny's life revolved around finding an outlet for his creative energy. This was the root of sonny's addiction to not only music, but also heroin. Sonny's parents died before his highschool graduation and with his brother overseas in the military, he was forced to stay at his aunt Isabel's house tempted only by the piano in her possession. Sonny shares his interest to join the military to escape Harlem's high school and contests, "I ain't learning nothing you'd want me to learn." (P.61) hinting at his early heroin use, but still unmoving his brother. When Sonny moves in, "it wan't like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound " as he obsessively played Isabel's piano it became evident, "Sonny was at that piano playing for his life." (Baldwin P.62). Sonny's highly addictive personality is clear but it was the creative output of the piano that saved him from heroin. After moving out of Isabel's, Sonny's need for creative output then caused him to immediately enlist in the military to escape Harlem. This sustained his needs until the war ended and Sonny was sent back home making him turn once again to heroin. Making music his second priority to drug use, Sonny explains how his fellow musicians, "on something all the time. And… it makes something real for them." (P.66). This was the pinnacle of Sonny's drug use, spending more creative energy using heroin than playing music. Once drugs became Sonny's main outlet he needed heroin to...
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