Since I was a small child, around two years old, I have had the privilege and sometimes the complete terror of being an older brother. This has been a rewarding experience for me, and has given me many learning opportunities and teaching opportunities in my fairly short life. Because of my experience as an older brother I was more fully able to understand and appreciate the struggles and triumphs that the two brothers in "Sonny's Blues" endured. While I have never personally had to deal with the extreme experiences and responsibilities that the narrator dealt with, I can still relate simply as an older brother myself. Throughout the short story I found myself questioning how I would deal with Sonny if he were my brother. I finally came to the conclusion that if I had dealt with Sonny, I would have probably handled him in nearly the same way as the narrator did. While I questioned his judgment at times, I feel that the older brother played his role well or at least to the best of his ability. Regardless of how the narrator dealt with his brother the final outcome is the most important aspect of the story, and it shows that brotherhood is capable of overcoming hardship and misunderstanding because it is so important in regard to human survival and success. The fact that brotherhood prevails over all things is an important theme, and one that rings so very true.
The first struggle that the reader is introduced to in "Sonny's Blues" is the distinct age difference between Sonny and his older brother. "The seven years' difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm. I wondered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge." (Baldwin, 44 - hereafter referred to as page number only) The so-called "chasm" is the hurdle that must be cleared in the story, and that "clearing of the hurdle" is the key to forming a solid, emotional relationship between the brothers. The "bridge" is finally formed when the narrator attends Sonny's performance at the jazz club. The fact that we get to see the interaction between the two brothers is important, but even more important is that the reader sees the narrator's realization of his brother's talent in the first person. This allows us to feel how deeply it touches the narrator, and gives us a perspective of his overflowing of emotion.
"For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." (61)
This particular passage was very striking to me, because it showed that the narrator finally realized that Sonny had a story too. He realizes that Sonny has suffered, but he has also triumphed many times, and in many ways. The narrator had a blanketing view of Sonny, in which Sonny could never be successful at anything. While Sonny is playing he tells his brother that they are more alike than they know, and that they both have the same story, just with different details. The brothers have finally found a bond, a common thread, and that is one of the most important things that brothers can have.
James Baldwin was a writer of his past. He used his personal experiences to more effectively write his detailed and emotional stories and essays. One important aspect to his writing in general, but more specifically in his early stories is poverty stricken Harlem, New York. Baldwin uses personal experiences and opinions to make his characters a part of the Harlem he lived through. The idea that Harlem is in a vicious cycle of destroying generation after generation, and the constant desire of youth to find a way out are two very important themes in "Sonny's Blues." Harlem is a place that repeats itself over and over, like a scratched record. Yet no one is willing to help the other out. For each generation the tragedy of Harlem is new, for the older people are reluctant to inform the young ones of the condition of the black race...
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