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Baldwin’s Work "Sonny’s Blues"

Apr 1, 2019 at Literature Essays

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The contemporary music industry is intertwined with issues of drugs, culture and the music itself. These three issues form major conflicts and interactions in most works of literature written on the music culture. Baldwin’s work “Sonny’s Blues” is a show of such a triangle interaction of music, culture and drugs. In this work, the author achieves to capture the readers’ attention through an exploration of cultural links that have impacted three different generations in the history of America. Sonny, the main protagonist in the book finds escapism from the African American oppression in the 1950s through music. This is a powerful short story with a definite storyline. Sonny gets addicted to heroin in the 1960s and this helps him to endure the struggle he is in as a result of oppression. This is a third person narrative story since it features Sonny’s brother who narrates the story from a distance, watching Sonny in his self destruction. He desperately wants to assist his brother to stop destroying himself with heroin but has no strategy of doing this.

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In the book, the main protagonist goes through powerful survival issues just because he is black and lives in the ghetto of a racist community. As a result, he struggles to understand himself and the environment he lives in. However, his elder brother has been successful in life and would like Sonny to follow his footsteps. He says that young black boys like Sonny “grow up with a rush, their heads bumping abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities”. From the short story, it is clear that Sonny’s brother is torn apart following his inability to help his brother overcome the impossibilities of life like drug addiction. There is insurmountable guilt within him for not creating a close relationship with Sonny despite their seven years age difference.

From an individual point of view, this story is somehow tough to read for a number of reasons. The most significant reason is that the work focuses on human suffering. When the main protagonist is in high school, he resorts to drugs after developing a feeling of disillusionment. He feels trapped in Harlem, school, and his inner goal being at conflict. There is a struggle within him between what he should do and what he wants to do. This increases the fear in Sonny’s brother since he well understands that his younger brother desperately requires his connection. At some point, he makes this claim, “But there’s no there? In killing yourself” (Baldwin 59). This indicates that Sonny was overdoing drugs in his musical escapism as he played at nightclubs as a pianist in Greenwich Village.


The story is loaded with twisting feelings that African American people can experience. The inner emotions replace the real things spoken to those people we love and require the words. The author artistically presents the spoken words linked to the unspoken by using the two brothers who greatly love each other. The unspoken words in the story come out through Sonny’s addiction to heroin, unheard expressions and his personal disorientation. Some of the actions are self-imposed while others are created by the environment that Sonny lives. It is in fact clear that Sonny’s brother fails to understand his brother’s desire for music or otherwise the need to join the military as indicated in the story.

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