James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” describe the middle of the 20th century. The author refers to the period prior to the Civil Rights Movement – in particular, to the dark days of segregation and racial discrimination. I think the author chose those times because he grew in Harlem and wanted to make people aware of that life. Sonny, as well as the narrator, grew up in poor neighborhood of Harlem. Sonny was the son of working class father whose optimism was put down by the death of his brother at the hands of the rural Southern whites.
The story shows ensuing struggle of the family in the racist Northern community.
The narrator is the teacher of Algebra and Sonny is a child disappointed in life and, therefore, addicted to drug use. The narrator suspects that his students “are popping off needles every time they went to the head and maybe it did more for them than algebra could“. Apparently, the author refers to drug abuse as the way to escape from the burden of reality, from racial discrimination and oppression.
The story is very dramatic and we see that characters are changing with story’s progression. Character changes are subtle because the plot features a character’s battle with heroin addiction. It is necessary to outline that this story teaches readers to understand people’s bad experiences and suffering. Nevertheless, the story is not simply – it depicts complex inner world of a boy who struggle with drug addiction. Music remains the only source to express pain.
“Sonny’s Blues” seems to be a tragedy about human suffering which is transformed in communal art and blues music. For Sonny, blues music is catalyst for changes. Music helps the narrator to understand himself and complex relations with Sonny. Baldwin raises the theme of brotherhood and claims that the story implies that we are “our brother’s keepers”. Baldwin stresses that brotherly support is more than control and coercion. Summing up, the story is about the struggle of darkness and light, of good and evil in humans.
Baldwin, James.(2002). Sonny’s Blues. Oxford: Oxford University Press.