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Sonny’s Blues, By James Baldwin Essay

1334 words - 6 pages

“Sonny’s Blues” is a short story in which the author presents a view on the realities of suffering in Harlem, New York in the 1950’s and how the presence of drugs can greatly impact not only the users, but the ones who care about the users as well. This can be shown through the literary use of setting, character, and theme. Throughout the story, the narrator struggles with trying to reason with the life his brother has chosen and the choices he has made. Sonny struggles to find an identity for himself having to live under the shadow of his brother his entire life. Sonny however finds solace in music which seems to become an escape for him and help him find meaning within himself. The narrator realizes at the end of the story why Sonny had chosen this life for himself.
This Story takes place in Harlem, New York in the 1950’s, but is also set in a smaller world developing around the nightclub where Sonny plays. Although the story takes place in Harlem, New York, it is as much a character in the story as any of the actual people. When Sonny and the narrator head back to the narrator’s apartment when Sonny gets out of jail, he really starts to think about the street he and Sonny had grown up: “We hit 110th Street and started rolling up Lenox Avenue. And I’d known this Avenue all my life, but it seemed to me again, as it had seemed on the day I’d first heard about Sonny’s troubles, filled with a hidden menace which was its very breath of life” (292). Sonny is whom the narrator goes on about in this story and is probably one of the most important characters in this story. In this passage Sonny tries to explain his inner turmoil to the narrator: “I was all by myself at the bottom of something, stinking and sweating and crying and shaking, and I smelled it, you know? My stink and I thought I’d die if I couldn’t get away from it and yet, all the same, I knew that everything I was doing was just locking me in with it” (291). After reading about Sonny’s struggles, it is hard not to experience the pain that Sonny has endured through his life choices. Sonny represents hopelessness and most readers can relate to Sonny because he felt he had no other way out of his troubled life. Sonny also has no justification for the drug use and causing the people who care about him so much pain, but you could also see Sonny as a heroic figure as well because of how he was able to conquer his drug addiction which is a great monumental accomplishment.
Another important character in this story is the narrator who provides us with an alternative view of Sonny’s life, showing us how drug addiction can negatively affect those around you and how Sonny’s drug addiction affected those around him as well as how difficult it was for the narrator who is not a musician to understand the motivation of one who is, like Sonny. The narrator is sort of the voice of reason in many ways throughout the story. He basically became Sonny’s father figure after their parents passed away and tries...

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