Expectations in Sonny's Blues, by James Baldwin Essay

1277 Words6 Pages
Segregation – prejudice – persecution: slavery had ended, but African-Americans were still forced to carve out a grim existence beneath the dispassionate stare of narrow-minded bigots. Soon, the Civil Rights Movement would gain momentum and drastically alter such social exclusion, but James Baldwin writes his story “Sonny’s Blues” before this transformation has occurred. In the style of other Post-Modernist writers of his day, Baldwin invents two brothers, Sonny and the narrator, who seem to have given up on finding meaning in their lives: escape, not purpose, is the solution for suffering. Although marginalized by white society, these men are still influenced by external standards – most noticeably our narrator. Using these two brothers…show more content…
Some escaped the trap, most didn’t” (Baldwin 24). Though he may live in a different place, Harlem has devoured a piece of him – and there it remains. Even the place in which he now lives bears an uncanny resemblance to the house of his childhood. The limitations that have always pressed and molded his character continue to smother his life, and he transfers that torment to Sonny unknowingly. Sonny is a passionate and sensitive young man who seems to look into the faces of those around him and feel their pain. Some would call his compassionate heart a curse as Harlem confronts him each day with a veritable storm of misery. After observing a prayer meeting in the street for a few moments, Sonny admits to his brother, “While I was downstairs before, on my way here, listening to that woman sing, it struck me all of a sudden how much suffering she must have had to go through –to sing like that. It’s repulsive to think you have to suffer that much” (Baldwin 41). In fact, this compassionate heart so deeply tortures his soul that he cannot bear to live in Harlem anymore and begins to strain against the fences that impede his horizon. Blossoming within Sonny is the heart of a jazz pianist, but that is not an occupation that his brother (or society) yet views as successful or respectable. When the narrator cautions Sonny against such blind ambition, Sonny declares “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else
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