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Analysis of Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

“Sonny’s Blues” is a James Baldwin’s short story, which talks about Sonny, a young and promising jazz musician who resides in Harlem, New York. It closely follows his story from the time he becomes addicted to drugs, particularly heroin, and is arrested for selling and using the latter. The author continued the story describing Sonny’s release from prison and the way he integrated back into society and family. The central part of “Sonny’s Blues” focuses on drugs, family ties, music, and how people overcome life challenges in daily struggles. This essay presents analysis of Sonny, the main character of the story, his brother, Isabel, and Creole.

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Sonny is a drug addict. In the story, he lives a very tragic life, and readers learn about his daily struggles. From the very beginning, the author tried to impart his suffering. As the story unfolds, he seems to be hopeless at some moment. It presents him as a person who lacks focus with regard to his life. However, the point of concern is when Sonny decides to turn to drugs to be able to cope with daily problems. For a reader, it was not one of the best choices he could make, but that was the only way he considered possible to deal with his troubles. Actions of Sonny and his friends cannot be justified, since there is no moral justification for becoming a drug addict. It does not only result in mental problems, but also causes other people pain as it can be seen in the story (Claborn 90). Drug addiction of Sonny portrays him as a person who is not capable of overcoming difficulties in order to achieve his dreams. A classic example is his brother who has endured the same hardships.

At some point, the reader sympathizes with him for his lack of the ability to escape from Harlem. He might have looked for other alternatives ways apart from taking drugs in this district. For instance, his brother, who grew up within the same environment, managed to make a career and have a good family and a place he could call home.

Thus, although Sonny and his brother came from the same household, they differ considerably. The former is simply a poor decision-maker in regard to life situations. Perhaps at the end of the story, Sonny had the capacity to conquer his drug addiction problems after a long time of suffering. It could be a heroic gesture since getting rid of his addiction to heroin is a hard thing to do (Claborn 90). It is a monumental accomplishment for him, for which readers can applaud him. Afterwards, he is seen making his life better. It is also a great success.

Analyzing his character, Sonny represents three kinds of people, namely, a heroic and tragic person, as well as an antihero. He is heroic since he can conquer his addiction to drugs to turn his life around. Sonny is tragic due to overcoming suffering in his daily life, and finally, as an anti-hero he creates his own problems connected with his brother.

Jazz music also plays an important part in Sonny’s life. He normally loves it since it soothes his heart. His brother blames this kind of music for the woes in Sonny’s life, but Sonny can express himself through it. One can argue that the music is the only positive thing in his desolate life. He has passion for jazz and views it as the only way to escape from his current life. Through jazz, he can interact with people who become his second family and cause comfort. At the end, the music stands as a bridge between him and his brother. When the latter sees him perform, it is the time he understands his passion of being a musician (Claborn 90). The opinion of the reader about him depends upon how he or she interprets the story.

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When it comes to Creole, he appears when the story is about to end. There is not much about him illustrated in “Sonny’s Blues”, but he is still an important figure. After Sonny has been arrested and taken to prison, Creole welcomes him into the world of jazz after his release. In the story, he acts as a musical mentor of Sonny, who guides him during his first performance. He inspires confidence in Sonny and makes him feel more comfortable musically until he can finally venture out on his own. In the story, Creole also acts as a bridge between Sonny’s world and that of his brother, who is the narrator. As a musician, he still lives in the former, but is much more experienced and responsible than Sonny. Creole acts as a father and mentor of Sonny. He is wise and a teacher not only for Sonny and his brother, but also for the reader. The author portrays his leadership qualities through leading performances in the club.

The narrator can be described as pragmatic based on the way he provides an alternative description of Sonny’s life (Mays 29). However, he is not a neutral voice. It is because at times he has biased opinions against his brother. He is compassionate and caring considering the way the narrator handles his brother’s drug addiction. He also tries to advise Sonny to think about his future, about which he seems to be very concerned. The narrator does not understand Sonny’s way of life or his interest in music. However, after all he acts in the best interests of his brother. For instance, he plays the father role for Sonny after the death of their parents. He is rigid in thinking and wants his brother living the life he lives. At times, he may seem selfish when he abandons Sonny at the time when the latter needs his brother greatly.

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In conclusion, every character in this story acts depending on the situation facing him or her. The immediate environment forms the behavior of every character, and it creates a flow in the book, from school to home. The author changes these characters as the story progresses in order to communicate his intended message to the reader, which is drugs, family ties, music, and the way people overcome daily challenges. Thus, the story centers more on characters, especially Sonny, the main one in “Sonny’s Blues”.


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