Symbolism in "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 836
  • Published: February 18, 2012
Read full document
Text Preview
Symbolism in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” the reader meets Sonny, a recovering addict, and his older brother, a high school teacher. Although these two brothers have completely different lives and personalities, the author’s use of symbolism brings them more tightly together like a real family. Baldwin uses symbols such as ice, lightness and darkness, and jazz music to add more depth and meaning to “Sonny’s Blues.”

People usually think of ice or the cold as being bitter and causing discomfort. When it is cold outside, people wear jackets to eliminate the bitterness of the cold. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny uses heroine to escape the discomfort of the reality that is his life. Heroine is Sonny’s jacket. Also, ice can symbolize fright, dread, and the feeling of being unsettled. When the narrator, Sonny’s older brother, first reads the newspaper and finds out that Sonny was arrested, “he felt as if a great block of ice was sitting in his stomach…It sent little trickles of water up and down his veins, but never got less” (50). The ice that the narrator feels in his stomach is actually the feeling of fright. The narrator is scared for his brother and he feels partly guilty for not helping him in his time of need. When the ice is melting inside of the narrator’s stomach, the fright and shock is finally shrinking until the ice sends the trickles through his veins to remind him that something terrible has happened. Another example of the symbol of ice used by Baldwin is when a childhood friend of Sonny’s comes up to the narrator and asks if he has heard the bad news. Sonny’s friend tells the narrator about what will happen to Sonny after he is released from rehab and the narrator feels the ice again, “the same dread he had felt all day” (52). The same dread that the narrator was feeling earlier that day is coming back because he knows that it will be his responsibility to water over his younger brother. Baldwin’s use of ice in his story gives the reader a better understanding of the narrator’s fright and dread. Also, Baldwin’s symbol of ice explains one of the reasons that caused Sonny to have an addiction to heroine.

Another symbol that Baldwin uses throughout the story is the symbol of lightness and darkness. Lightness and darkness usually symbolize good and evil. One example of darkness that Baldwin uses in “Sonny’s Blues” is when Mama, the narrator’s mother, was telling him about the death of his and Sonny’s uncle. After Mama told the story of the brothers’ uncle being run over and killed by a car full of white men, she said, “Your Daddy says he never in his life seen anything as dark as that road after the lights of that car had gone away” (58). In this example, Baldwin uses the darkness of the road to create a deeper meaning behind the uncle’s death and the father’s sadness. The reason the father felt as if nothing could ever be as dark as that road is because he experiences his only brother dying in front of him. Death, especially murder, is considered to be a very “dark” subject. When there is a funeral, mostly every person is wearing black or dark clothing because he is mourning over the death of a loved one. Another example is when the narrator reminisces on the days when all of the ‘old folks’ would sit around in the living room after church. “They would all sit in the chairs while the night is creeping up outside, but no one knows it yet…everyone is looking at something a child cannot see” (56). Baldwin uses the darkness of night as a symbol of death in this quote because the sun is setting on the “old folks’” lives. Also, the narrator says that the children cannot see death because they are too you to understand why life ends. Baldwin’s use of the symbol of darkness here adds depth to the fact that the children do not view life in the same ways that adults do because children have just started their lives while the adults have already lived most of...
tracking img