Literary Analysis of James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues

Topics: Jazz, Blues, Drug addiction Pages: 6 (2329 words) Published: January 29, 2012
Fictional writing is generally done just to entertain readers. Some authors create stories with a singular point of view, while others introduce more complex plots and storylines. When it comes to author James Baldwin’s short story Sonny’s Blues, there is much depth given to the storyline and the characters. Sonny’s Blues has been analyzed by many different people throughout time because the story has many elements. From Baldwin’s skillful use of metaphors and similes to his incorporation of religious references, this story is insightfully and complexly written. A simple story about a man and his brother leaves readers with an inside look into family, drug addiction, socioeconomic struggles in the Black community, and the language of Jazz music. Sonny’s Blues is a story about an aspiring musician’s life as it is seen through his older brother’s eyes. The story begins with Sonny’s older brother, an Algebra teacher, finding out that Sonny has been sent to prison due to a drug related crime. He finds this out by reading about the incident in the newspaper because apparently Sonny’s lifestyle has caused the brothers to lose contact. After a tragedy strikes, the unnamed narrator reaches out to Sonny in an attempt to mend their relationship. Throughout the piece, the narrator shares past experiences from their childhood as well as family secrets, and events that shaped both brothers’ adult lives. Readers ultimately come to learn that Sonny is a misunderstood Jazz musician that has walked a rough road, but in the end he is just trying to survive. Sonny’s brother narrates the story so while readers witness Sonny’s struggle, they also witness his brother’s transformation. Sonny is a recovering drug addict so it would seem that the story would be about how he changed; in reality Sonny never changes, but his brother comes to understand him and respect the man he is as well as the man he is striving to become. A prominent theme throughout the story is Jazz music. As a teenager, Sonny aspires to be a Jazz musician like Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker (Schakel & Ridl, 2008, p. 320). During the era this story was written, Jazz music was like today’s rap music in the way it was perceived by the older generation of people. Many people today still look at rappers as uneducated, former drug dealers and drug users, gang bangers that grew up in underprivileged neighborhoods. The reality is that although that was the life for some, not all rap musicians fall into those categories; nowadays it is not uncommon to come across college educated rappers that run multimillion dollar enterprises. When jazz began to grab the attention of the young people in the 1950’s, leaving behind the old time Blues, it received the same reception as rap. That sentiment was evident when Sonny shared his dream with his brother, “I suppose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called ‘good-time people’” (p. 319). Sonny’s brother did not support his dream of becoming a jazz musician from the start because of his own assumption about what type of people played that kind of music. Later, the narrator associates the bad choices Sonny made regarding drugs with jazz, “…his music seemed merely to be an excuse for the life he led” (p. 323). Though Sonny’s brother does not openly blame Jazz for Sonny’s problems, Sonny is aware of how his brother feels about it; he makes this clear in a letter he sent to his brother from prison, “I don’t want you to think it had anything to do with me being a musician” (p. 313). Once the narrator takes the time to actually listen to Sonny he gains a better understanding of how Sonny sees jazz music versus how he originally views it. When Sonny’s brother watches him play the piano in the club, he realizes that Jazz music wasn’t Sonny’s downfall; it was his escape from suffering. Beyond just being a symbol of the driving force behind the creation of a character in a story, jazz music has been used in literature as a language....
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