Suffering And Assimilation Essay

1536 words - 6 pages

One of the recurring themes that shows up in the literature written by African Americans and Mexican Americans seems to be the suffering of the past and present along with not much hope for the future. The pains expressed by these people are related to race, poverty, violence, and lack of opportunity. Another recurring theme is the minorities assimilation into the white society. Minorities have always been socially pressured to assimilate into the society in which they live. They are subtly encouraged in the United States to become a part, "The American Dream." These two themes can be seen in, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, "Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin and even the real life of Jean Toomer, a famous writer.

In "Sonny's Blues" the main theme is the suffering of black people in America. The death of Sonny's uncle being killed by a white drunk driver symbolizes the pervasive persecution of black people by whites. The whole family suffers in some way, whether it is the mother feeling extreme sorrow for Sonny or his father tormented by the memory of his brothers painful death and his hatred of white people because of it. The narrator, who never reveals his name suffers in his own particular way. He has his own "Blues" in a way, and he sees darkness everywhere. He imagines his students shooting up heroin in between classes. He says, "Their laughter . . . was not the joyous laughter which God knows why one associates with children." Obviously he doesn't believe being a child has much joy. Sonny escapes the harsh realities of life in Harlem, by escaping through the drug heroin for temporary relief, even though he knows it will kill him. Music to him is freedom from these blues of everyday life. The story suggests that music can save people from suffering, or at least minimize the suffering. Sonny uses the bebop jazz music as an outlet for his feelings of suffering, an outlet his brother cannot understand.

In "Sonny's Blues," the story places emphasis on Harlem's African American community and its struggle to become successful both economically and socially. Sonny's brother is a high school algebra teacher who grew up in Harlem, who has made an attempt to escape the streets by getting a good job and assimilating himself, as best he can, into white society. In subtle ways, however, he has internalized many of the prejudices of that society. When Sonny tells him that he wants to be a musician, his brother immediately assumes that this means a classical musician. After it becomes clear that Sonny wants to play jazz, a traditionally black genre, his brother thinks that it is somehow beneath him. The success that Sonny's brother has in assimilating into the white-dominated society separates him from his brother and a world that, "Filled everything, the people, the houses, the music, the dark, quicksilver barmaid, with the menace that was the irreality." On the other hand, Sonny lives outside of the white society and...

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