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Biblical And Religious Themes In "Sonny's Blues"

1305 words - 5 pages

James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” is the authors most studied and critically analyzed piece of literature. The majority of these analyses focus on the obvious themes of the book such as jazz music, the unnamed narrator, or the rift that divides Sonny and his brother. Little critique has ever gone into the biblical and religious themes that run throughout the story of “Sonny’s Blues.” Furthermore, it is even more astonishing that there is little critique given Baldwin has such a strong history with the world of Christianity.
James Tackach wrote that it should not come as a surprise that Baldwin would use stories or references from the Bible as a foundation for his literature (109). Baldwin was practically raised in the church. Born in the Harlem District of New York on August 2, 1924, he grew up poor with 8 siblings in a very religious home. Baldwin’s stepfather was a preacher and strict authoritarian which lead to a very tumultuous relationship (Champion 5). At the age of fourteen, Baldwin began preaching at a Pentecostal church, however, that did not last. He became disenchanted with the church and left. At eighteen he moved to New Jersey. Later in his life, he moved to Greenwich Village area of New York, which was known for its abundance of artists and writers. He later left the states because of the uprising of racism and settled in France until his death (Champion 5). At the age of 63, Baldwin died in Saint-Paul de Vence, France.
Perhaps the most compelling and obvious use of biblical reference is the ending line of the story. While Sonny’s band takes a break, the narrator buys Sonny a drink. The drink is set upon Sonny’s piano, but he does not immediately drink from the cup, but just before the band began to play, “he sipped from it and looked toward me, and nodded. Then he put it on top of the piano. For me, then, as they began to play again, it glowed and shook above my brother’s head like the very cup of trembling” (Baldwin 63). The cup of trembling comes from the Book of Isaiah. “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out,” the passage of scripture reads (Isaiah 51:17). This passage from the Bible is God telling His people that He knows they have suffered and are terrified of His fury. God promises they that will no longer drink from the cup of trembling and instead will put it into the hands of their enemies. This passage implies hope that those, like Sonny and his brother, who have been affected with fear and misery, will no longer be plagued. There are four great fears when drinking from the “cup of trembling.” Those fears are devastation, destruction, famine, and death. Sonny and his brother have both experienced each of these in some form. Keith Byerman states that if the cup of trembling is given, then Sonny will continue to suffer and feel guilt; if they cup is taken away, then Sonny...

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