Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin
The short story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin exposes and explores many social and internal issues. The story is told by an unnamed, self-loathing narrator living in Harlem during the middle of the 20th century. He is an everyday family man and school teacher who does not like to expose his emotions and the pain that he’s dealt with in his life. Much of this pain has come from his brother Sonny, the main character in the story. Sonny is a long-time heroin addict that has just recently been released from prison, and his brother feels as though he has had something to do with Sonny’s addiction. I believe that this feeling could come from the fact that even though they both have come from the same racially-oppressed neighborhood, the narrator has risen above the problems and troubles while Sonny did not, and maybe he could have done more.
I believe this story focuses on the sufferings of the black community in America at the time. It shows how through all the racism, self-hatred and social injustices, black people dealt with their problems. Sonny made himself feel better by using heroin, but he also found a constructive outlet to deal with his demons through jazz music. This makes Sonny a relatable character to many of us, and young people especially who find a way to deal with their pain through things like music and art. Towards the end of the piece, when the narrator orders a drink for Sonny while he is performing, it symbolizes to me that he finally understands him and his pain, and maybe even his own.
I would like to question what became of the brothers. Did Sonny kick his habit? Were they able to patch-up their relationship or was this just a rare moment where they actually understood each other? If they were able to reconcile with one another then I believe this shows that we can always find a common ground with someone, no matter what our demons.
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