Sonny's Blues

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How music affects change: A character analysis of the protagonist in “Sonny’s Blues”. Music is a powerful language that speaks to many of us. It has the ability to transport us to a place and time in our lives with just hearing a single note or noise. Music can be more than what we traditionally think of it. It can be the sound of a voice or the slamming of a door. It is emotional, thought evoking and has therapeutic properties. Every song affects each one of us differently. We will find out what effects music has on Sonny, as we explore how music effects change for him as he struggles with drug addiction and as he builds a relationship with his older brother in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”. As we begin the story, we are immediately introduced to the inciting moment when Sonny’s brother reads of Sonny’s arrest for the first time. Baldwin sets the tone for the story by reading the newspaper article on the subway in the faces of the other passengers, the swinging lights while he is “trapped in the darkness which roared outside.” (96). Baldwin uses the darkness as ominous music to let us know that something is waiting for him. As Baldwin moves forward and we find out about Sonny using heroin, we also get to the end of the narrators work day. “When the last bell rang, the last class ended, I let out my breath. It seemed I’d been holding it for all that time.” (97). The last bell, which ends the narrator’s day, serves as stress release moment. This is a musical expression of change in his state of mind. In the next significant occurrence, we start to find out a little bit about Sonny’s past before we even meet him. Sonny’s friend goes to visit the narrator to tell him of what happened to Sonny. He was not a friend of the narrator but he came to him to make sure he found out the news of Sonny being arrested. Sonny’s brother asked the friend “what’s going to happen to him now?” (98). His question went unanswered but he responded with “when I saw the papers this morning, the first thing I asked myself was if I had anything to do with it. I felt sort of responsible” (98). Sonny’s friend then peered into the window of a bar that had juke box music playing loudly with a barmaid keeping time to the music. “When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still-struggling women beneath the battered face of the semi-whore.” (98). This was Baldwin’s way of showing us that even though the barmaid was smiling while keeping time to the music, you could see who she used to be. This reminded Sonny’s friend of Sonny before his heroin addiction. “I never give Sonny nothing but a long time ago I come to school high and Sonny asked me how it felt. I told him it felt great. It did.” (98). The music was pausing and starting as he said this to the narrator. This is Baldwin’s way of emphasizing the guilt Sonny’s friend had about introducing Sonny to heroin. As the story progresses, the narrator sends Sonny a letter saying that his daughter, Gracie has died and Sonny writes him back. They continue to keep in touch which positions them to meet up once Sonny is release from jail. Once Sonny is released from jail, he goes to the narrator’s home and visits with his wife and children. Sonny got along well with them, but wasn’t very talkative to the narrator. This gave the narrator time to reflect on something his mother had said about keeping an eye on Sonny. She told him about his father having a brother who died. “Your Daddy once had a brother. You didn’t ever know that, did you?” (103). She proceeded to explain that his uncle had been killed and we find out about the things he had in common with Sonny. This is a reason she wants him to lookout for his brother, Sonny. “He used to have a job in the mill and, like all young folks, he just liked to perform on Saturday nights, go to dances and things like that, or just sit around with people they knew and your father’s brother would sing, he had a fine voice, and play along with himself on...
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