“Sonny’s Blues” The Use of Symbolism
In order to understand the use of symbolism in James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” the setting and the time period in which the story was written must carefully be looked over. “Sonny’s Blues” takes place in Harlem, New York during the early 1950s.This is a desolated place; people are suffering from poverty, African American population is peaking, prostitutes are walking the streets and drugs are being traded on every street corner. The audience is presented with a painted image of a community consumed with drugs and hardships, the same drugs and hardships that Sonny and his brother were faced with, “He’d always been a good boy, he hadn’t ever turned hard or evil or disrespectful, the way kids can, so quick, so quick, especially in Harlem” (Baldwin 18) . Baldwin’s use of symbolism to represent the powerful symbols of ice, darkness and music in Sonny’s Blues clarifies and breaks down the understanding of suffering and triumph that both Sonny and his brother had to encounter.
Quickly introduced is the powerful symbol of ice that appears frequently throughout the story. As the narrator first learns of his brother’s arrest he describes the feeling as “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long…It was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less. Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream.” (Baldwin 17). This vivid description reveals the narrators fear, guilt, and the feeling of discomfort. The narrator cannot seem to escape this icy feeling, as it returns when Sonny is released from jail and gets to his apartment feeling the “icy dread” (Baldwin 26). Every time the narrator is presented with an awkward and uncomfortable situation, the ice bubbles up in his stomach. The ice allows the audience to understand...
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