Sonny's Blues Essay

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Discuss place and how James Baldwin uses elements of setting to convey Sonny’s Blues’ larger message or theme.

Establishing and maintaining a certain identity mostly depends on the setting. The setting allows us to analyze someone at a deeper level. Considering the time, place and the circumstances around under which they respond allows us to explore them and determine their identity. In the short story “Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin conveys the message of how one goes about establishing and maintaining their identity on different levels by using elements of setting. The author uses elements of setting several times to convey the message but some of the prominent uses are the military service, life in Harlem and especially the use of
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Sonny understands this notion and yearns to enlist in the Navy; he was ready to lie about his age. He thought, “if I say I’m old enough, they’ll believe me”, this signifies how eager Sonny was to have the understanding and acceptance that his older brother had. After Sonny returned from the Navy, the narrator still imaged him as someone who “carried himself, loose and dreamlike all the time”. He thought that Sonny had lost all prospects of reality and unfortunately his thoughts came out to be true. The narrators’ time spent in the military allowed him to make that judgment, therefore the setting of the military service established such an identity for the narrator, which made him successful in life and allowed him to help others as well. Also Sonny wanted to enlist in the army so it would take him away from the “killing streets” of Harlem and give him the opportunity to get a college education on the GI Bill.
Living in Harlem established suppressed and fearful identities for the two brothers. For most of their lives they lived in a black and poor neighborhood of Harlem where there was abundance of potential but they’re threatened by the drugs and violence of the urban ghetto. Growing up in such an environment encouraged the narrator to become more understanding of the surroundings, he suspected his own students to “be popping off needles every time they went to the head,” and comes to the

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