The Inevitability of Suffering in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues
Everyone likes to feel safe. We try to protect ourselves and those we love, to make them feel safe as well. The idea conveyed about safety in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is that there is no such thing.
The narrator of this story had thought that his brother Sonny was safe. Or at least, that was what he had made himself believe. "I told myself that Sonny was wild, but he wasn't crazy. And he'd always been a good boy, he hadn't ever turned hard or evil or disrespectful, the way kids can, so quick, so quick, especially in Harlem. I didn't want to believe that I'd ever see my brother going down, coming to nothing, all that light in his face gone out, in the condition I'd already seen so many others" (48). But Sonny hadn't been safe from drugs, or the streets, or any of the things his brother had been sure he was immune to. He had been arrested for using and peddling heroin. Sonny's friend, the boy we meet later, had thought the same thing as Sonny's brother had. " 'I thought Sonny was a smart boy...too smart to get hung'" (49). But they were both wrong.
It had been Sonny's brother's responsibility to look out for Sonny from the time Sonny was born. "When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him just before he fell when he took the first steps he ever took in this world" (52). The narrator of the story is Sonny's big brother, so he feels responsible for him. This responsibility is confirmed by their mother on page 55, and the older brother reassures her, "I won't let nothing happen to Sonny" (57). But he fails at this, Sonny leaves and gets into trouble. Perhaps the narrator felt that if he couldn't keep his brother safe, then he would protect himself and his family by not contacting Sonny while he was in prison. But he realized that he couldn't protect his little daughter Grace from dying. That's when he started writing to his brother. "My trouble made his real," he said (62). Because the truth is, we are never truly safe from anything. No one and nothing can protect us. This idea is brought out numerous times in the story. Driving past housing projects, where people have attempted to make nice, safe homes for themselves and their children in the midst of Harlem, and noticing the beat-looking grass and the big windows, and the playground, which saw more...