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Suffering As A Common Denominator Essay

1573 words - 6 pages

“Sonny’s Blues” is a short story in which James Baldwin, the author, presents an existential world where suffering characterizes a man’s basic state. The theme of tragedy and suffering can be transformed into a communal art form such as blues music. Blues music serves as a catalyst for change because the narrator starts to understand that not only the music but also himself and his relationship with Sonny. The narrator’s view of his brother begins to change; he understands that Sonny uses music as an exit of his suffering and pain. This story illustrates a wide critical examination. Richard N. Albert is one critic that explores and analyzes the world of “Sonny’s Blues”. His analysis, “The Jazz-Blues Motif in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”” is an example of how one can discover plot, characterization and jazz motif that builds this theme of suffering.
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients that make up the plot: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice. In the beginning of the story, the narrator reads in the newspaper about Sonny’s arrest for using and selling heroin. This causes the narrator to reflect on his and Sonny’s pasts. He doesn’t understand why Sonny does drugs and feels helpless. This is where we see the narrator’s suffering and pain. He is scared for Sonny and doesn’t know how to help him. Baldwin writes, “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice. . . . Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream” (Baldwin 180). People don't always outwardly express their anguish. The narrator's suffering is immense (it threatens to overpower him here), but he can't just fall apart. Perhaps his suffering is made even greater because this great, big block of ice just stays where it is. He can't get it out of his system. In the critical article, Albert notes, “When he hears of Sonny’s troubles with drugs and the law, he feels threatened” (Albert 179). As the story proceeds, the narrator is led to a personal awareness of human frailty through the death of his young daughter. Recalling how his mother sympathetically comforted his father when his father's brother was intentionally hit and killed by a car driven by a drunken white man, the narrator acts on his mother's request that he offer the same sympathy to Sonny in times of duress. Listening to Sonny's jazz solo at a bar in Greenwich Village, the narrator is led to an understanding of universal suffering and of his brother's attitudes. The narrator asks, “I said: "But there's no way not to suffer – is there, Sonny?" The narrator is resigned to suffering. He's just accepted it as part of the human condition. He witnesses Sonny in his element,...

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