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...
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