The writer was a poor boy growing up. He was also a Negro, so things were bad for him and his family in white America. He probably felt sad every day of his childhood so he turned to books for entertainment and maybe escape. When he started reading, he found that he liked it and wanted to create stories for other people to enjoy, but he was a poor Negro boy who could not expect help from the whites, so he taught himself to write. That is similar to Sonny, who taught himself to play the piano.
In the final scene, Sonny performs some improvisational jazz. What is improvisational music? What do we learn about Sonny through his performance? Explain.
Improvisational music is when the band members just start playing tunes that come out of their heads. These are tunes they have never played or seen before. There is no music for them to read or write down; they just play from their heart. When Sonny starts, it seems like he is unconfident. He does not believe in himself very much until he gets into his rhythm and then he really gets down. It’s like he finally sees that people are going to accept him and not make fun of him.
Professor Henderson observes that Baldwin adds depth and meaning to "Sonny's Blues" through the effective use of symbolism. Identify words or passages that demonstrate Baldwin's use of symbolism, such as of light and darkness, past and present, etc.
When the big brother says that he felt a big block of ice in his stomach that would not go away, it was Baldwin’s way of describing how the character had a very bad feeling about what happened to Sonny.
Then the author writes that boys grow up fast but they can’t get their full potential because they bumped their heads on the roof of their possibilities. Baldwin means that Negroes could not ever hope to achieve what the white people did in life, that there was a ceiling (limit) for them that was lower than the one for white people.
“All they really knew were two darknesses,” Baldwin writes, talking about the dark movie theaters that Negro boys would go to, and also their drab, unhappy lives that were full of darkness. Here he means darkness is sadness, depression and lack of a way out. When the boys are in the movies, they can pretend to be somebody else, and no one can look at them in a bad way.
Much of Baldwin's short story is connected to emotions and feelings expressed in jazz music. Research jazz music. Is it important to understand jazz or know its history to understand its significance and meaning in the Baldwin's story? Why or why not?
Jazz is really old music, like from more than 100 years ago. It started up because the Negro people got tired of the same old sad songs, the blues. They wanted something with a faster beat; something that would make them part, but jazz is kind of depressing if you really listen to it closely. You might have a party at your house or go to a bar, but your house and the bar are still in a very poor part of town, and at the end of the night, you still do not have very much. The music made people have some fun, but there was a tone of sadness under all the music. I think it is important to understand where jazz came from in order to understand this story better. Jazz music is like this. Imagine you have a bird in a little cage where he can’t fly or move around much. He must be very sad. Then you put him in a cage that is a little bit bigger, so that maybe he can hop from one bar to the next. The bird enjoys the hopping, but he still knows he is a prisoner.
Compare and contrast the characters of the two brothers in "Sonny's Blues." What sort of person is the narrator? How does he feel about his brother? What do we know about Sonny and his feelings for his brother? Explain.
The older brother is a good boy. He does his job, pays his bills and keeps his nose clean. He went into the Army because...