Sonny's Blues

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"Sonny's Blues" was first published in a mainstream magazine in 1957 and was collected in Baldwin's 1965 book "Going To Meet The Man". Sonny's Blues" is a short story set in the ghetto of Harlem, NY. James Baldwin wrote "Sonny's Blues" to articulate how the African-American culture enabled countless numbers of Blacks to escape, survive, endure and overcome various types of institutionalized racism and accompanying forms of social, economical and political oppression. African-American culture refers to a particular society at a particular time and place, which expresses and shares a set of learned beliefs, values, tradition, history, arts, religion, food and music. The different forms of the African-American culture gave blacks a sense of belonging. Music for instance, is a powerful language, which speaks to us, moves us and fills us with emotion. In "Sonny's Blues" the voice of jazz music mediates the relationship between two brothers. More importantly it focuses on the two characters as having two different perspectives on life, which keeps them apart. The younger brother, Sonny is energized by the emptiness that surrounds him and his community. His inspiration is the African-American culture; but he becomes overwhelmed in the process of facing reality. He turns to drugs as an escape from what he sees and experiences. On the other hand, the older brother's method of life and survival is by detachment. He distances himself from the dangers of the world that surrounds him and succeeds in becoming a middle-class schoolteacher. The price he pays for detaching himself from the life in Harlem is the temporary loss of his roots, culture, extended family and community. Through an honest appreciation for individuality and a realistic point of view the teacher not only comes to know and understand his brother, but himself as well.
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