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Araby And Sonny's Blues As Quest Narratives

1522 words - 6 pages

The quest narrative is a common method of narration present in almost every adventure story in one form or another. One key characteristic which defines all quest narratives, irrespective of type, is the search for a “Holy Grail” – symbolic of something the protagonist desires. In a quest narrative it is often appropriate to refer to the protagonist as the hero. However, despite the connotations of the word “hero” to a figure who is flawless in both form and disposition, the hero usually does not begin the story as a perfect figure; the hero must undergo a series of trials and tribulations to which the hero emerges as a changed character. It is this journey to achieve greatness that characterizes all quest narratives. “Sonny’s Blues” (1959) by James Baldwin and “Araby” (1916) by James Joyce can both be interpreted as quest narratives because they each adhere to the archetype established by quest narrative. For instance both stories have the symbolic Holy Grail that gives objectification to each protagonist’s desires. In addition there are instances in both texts of a trial that changes the protagonist’s outlook, allowing the character to achieve realization in completing his quest. In “Sonny’s Blues” and “Araby” there is a “Holy Grail”– fulfilling the role as big brother in “Sonny’s Blues” and the girl in “Araby” – and a trial that serves as the protagonist’s rebirth – the deaths of family members in “Sonny’s Blues” and the bazaar in “Araby”; these symbols make both texts quest narratives.

The Holy Grail in “Sonny’s Blues” does not have a physical presence but is rather represented by a state of mind(being?); the purpose of the Narrator’s quest is to fulfill his role as big brother to Sonny. It is suitable to designate to Holy Grail to the Narrator’s fulfillment to be big brother because it is what the Narrator earnestly desires throughout the entire text. Some readers may question this claim that the Narrator tries to be big brother throughout the entire text, reflected by statements like these early in the text: “I haven’t seen Sonny for over a year, I’m not sure I’m going to do anything” (149) in response when asked by the druggie as to what he is going to do about Sonny. However, the Narrator’s apparent indifference primarily comes from his disillusionment from living in the crime-stricken, poverty-infested environment of Harlem rather than a denial as role as big brother. The Narrator’s devotion to be the big brother-figure is strong even in his flashbacks, before he comes to truly recognize his duty of kin. Perhaps the best representation of his continual devotion to be big brother is when he tries to patch things up with Sonny while he’s staying at the Village, only to be ridiculed by Sonny’s friends. It is the devotion to achieve a desire that represents the Holy Grail; in the case of “Sonny’s Blues”, it is the Narrator’s penis.

Whereas it was the protagonist’s devotion to achieve a desire that marked the Holy Grail in “Sonny’s...

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