English M01B Tues & Thurs
Suffering in Sonny’s Blues
In Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, two brothers grow up in the ghetto of Harlem, a poverty-stricken place where heroin use is common and crime is high. Sonny, the younger of the two, is portrayed as a troubled young adult who desperately tries to get out of the negative environment that threatens to destroy his dream of becoming a musician. His brother, in contrast, leads a more stable life, has a family, and is a schoolteacher. Throughout the story there is a common theme of suffering that ultimately brings the two main characters together and through their suffering, they are able to have a better understanding of one another and themselves.
Sonny’s addiction to heroin is his way of expressing his suffering. The short story begins with Sonny being sent to jail for his narcotic use; however, we learn that this addiction actually started at a young age, growing up in troubled Harlem. Growing in an impoverished neighborhood was not easy for Sonny, as he often felt misunderstood. To deal with his pain and suffering, Sonny turned to drugs. He describes his drug use in a way that “It makes you feel—in control, sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling” (Baldwin 64). For Sonny, having any control in his life was important to him. Because he felt so helpless, Sonny found solace in drug use, as this was something he could control. It is clear that Sonny was suffering, as he desperately wanted to leave Harlem, but was unable to. Drugs were an easy way for him to deal with his emotions. He hid behind the glamor of drugs with the idea that it made him a better musician, “I felt that I was in it, that I was with it, and that I could play or didn’t really have to play, it just came out of me, it was there” (Baldwin 68). Sonny felt as though it made him a better musician almost like he was a better person and when he played, the music just flowed through...