Communication In Sonny’s Blues By James Baldwin

1788 words - 8 pages

“Sonny’s Blues” is a well known short story, written by James Baldwin. The main conflict in the story is communication between brothers and finding a way to understand each other. Sonny’s brother, who is the narrator of the story, finds himself comfortable teaching algebra that “suggests his desire for standard procedures and elegant, clear-cut solutions” (Murray 353), while Sonny’s passion is playing jazz. The narrator has a hard time understanding Sonny and believes that Sonny’s interest for music is temporary. He wants Sonny to live with his wife’s family and go to school. However, Sonny finds it hard to go to school every day since music is all he wants to do. When the narrator finds out that Sonny was arrested for using and selling heroin, he cannon believe that it would happen to Sonny, although deep down inside he knew it might. Only by the end does the narrator understand Sonny and feel his pain.
There are many critical articles written about “Sonny’s Blues”. Some critics believe that the conflict is mainly about Sonny, or the narrator. Others think it’s about a conflict between brothers. One critic, Suzy Bernstein Goldman, says that “Sonny’s Blues” is “about communication between people” (Goldman 231) and that music saves them at the end while another critic, Donald C. Murray, believes that Baldwin “deals with man’s need to find his identity in a hostile society” (Murray 353) and the meaning of this story is not just about communication but about love. While both of them are true, the main conflict of this story is about understanding one another.
When Sonny was a teenager, his brother wanted Sonny to stay with his wife’s family and go to school like every other normal kid. Sonny’s brother believed that education is that one thing that can save them from trouble and he pushed Sonny to finish school and get education. Sonny on the other hand, always wanted to play music. He believes that only through music can he find himself. Sonny had a difficult time making his brother listen to Sonny. As he said “but what I don’t seem to able to make you understand is that it’s the only thing I want to do” (Baldwin 38). This misunderstanding between brothers builds a very tense relationship between them. Sonny becomes angry at his brother because his brother doesn’t want to listen and understand what Sonny wants to do with his life. A perfect example would be when the narrator and Sonny are talking about Sonny’s future. The brother says,
“’Will you please do that? For me?’
He didn’t answer and he wouldn’t look at me.
‘Sonny. You hear me?’
He pulled away.’ I hear you. But you never hear anything I say’” (Baldwin 39).
These few lines show that Sonny listens to his brother but in return Sonny want his brother to listen what he has to say and what he wants to do with his future. The narrator, on the other hand believes that playing music is not serious and that only education can give Sonny a brighter future; however Sonny’s brother doesn’t...

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