Sonny's Blues Essay

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The story “Sonny’s Blues” By James Baldwin is about a jazz musician and his brother in 1950’s Harlem. The story centers on Sonny who uses jazz music as an escape from his depression. James Baldwin captures the art of jazz during this time period. The themes in this short story are perhaps varied, but all of them revolve around some form of suffering. One theme shows how music can promote change and understanding within relationships. A second theme reveals suffering caused by guilt. Yet another theme references the results of suffering brought about by searching for ones’ identity and how that leads to misunderstanding. There are also subthemes concerning racism and poverty.
James Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem, New York to
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(Teaching Arts) One of Baldwin’s beliefs was that art and music has the power to minimize suffering. Sonny uses bebop to express his emotions on his up-bringing and where he came from. The narrator, Sonny’s brother, and Sonny grew up in the projects of Harlem and were exposed to drugs and alcohol. They both feel darkness in their lives. Sonny became addicted to heroin and went to jail. Once out of jail, Sonny uses bebop music to make sense of his emotions instead of the heroin. Sonny’s brother does not understand his passion for music but does not know how to express his feelings of being “trapped in the darkness which roared outside.”(Baldwin 84) When Sonny was a teenager, he tells his brother he wants to be a jazz musician. The narrator does not think it is good enough for him because jazz was new and was not yet understood.
The narrator goes to a club to watch Sonny and his band play. He begins to understand how deeply his brother feels and thinks, “I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument with the breath of life, his own.”(Baldwin 102) The music gives Sonny a chance to release his hopelessness and depression. Even though the narrator believes Sonny could have done more with his life if he had turned to classical music, he understands that Sonny is being true to who he really is. The anonymous brother, however, has not found

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