James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues," is about more than just a man and his brother, Sonny. This story is about a man and his struggle overcoming the death of his daughter, the drug addiction of his brother, and the hardship he has to go through being black in Harlem. The story is about the necessity of family, the differences between art and practicality, the power of music to heal, and the importance of listening. Baldwin successfully discusses the wide range of issues through the use of catharsis, non-linear plot, and first person point of view. Baldwin takes the reader on a journey that makes this story as personal as a diary.
For this story to include catharsis, the characters must go through emotional purging, atonement for some mistake, and then the audience must have a cleansing or realization. Sonny experiences emotional purging when he stops using the piano as an escape from reality and starts using drugs. The narrator learns that he needs to listen to Sonny and learns to respect the blues and the rich black history behind the music and the blue's scene in Harlem. This respect is one step in the direction of understanding and accepting his black heritage. The brothers, the practical teacher and the soulful artist, come together and the narrator realizes that he needs to listen to his brother's pain. This realization extends to the reader and is sending a bigger message to take care of and listen to everyone. This realization is part of the audience's cleansing. Baldwin provokes the audience to feel pity for the characters, yet relate to their experiences. The story sends a message to everyone about the importance of listening and the significance of family.
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