Point of View and Symbolism in “Sonny’s Blues”
The story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin makes excellent use of multiple literary elements. Namely, I think the writer utilizes symbolism and the nuances of point of view to give the story a deeper connotation that could not be said plainly. The meat of the story is about an unnamed older brother’s relationship and differences with his younger brother, Sonny. Sonny’s aspiration to become a jazz pianist leads him in an opposite direction than his brother, and into a world where the common suffering is dealt with by heroin and music. The fundamental differences between the brothers in their lack of understanding for each other and their gradual acceptance of one another is highlighted and explained by what the symbolism adds to the story and the change in the narrator’s point of view at the end of the story.
The symbolism in this story divulges information about the characters that could never have just been plainly said. Perhaps the greatest factor in the contrast between the two is the career paths they have chosen. Sonny’s dream is to become an accomplished jazz/bebop pianist. During the mid 1900’s when this story is set, that profession is the embodiment of black culture. The whole genre of music was born out of the suffering and woes of the then contemporary black society. The brother, on the other hand, became an algebra teacher, a job that the white culture would respect. His position implies that he desired to hide from prejudice; trying to assimilate as well as he could into white culture, whereas Sonny embraced his ethnicity. A musician is creative, fluid, and free spirited, while an algebra teacher is more logical and structured by nature, establishing a basic gap between the two right off the bat. The brother’s left brain-ness is a main reason why he has trouble understanding the importance of jazz to the creative right brained Sonny. To Sonny, jazz represents his need for autonomy and an escape from...
Cited: Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. 5th ed. Ed. John Schlib and John Clifford. Boston: Bedford 2012. 337-59. Print.
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