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The Light And Darkness Of Suffering Depicted In Sonny's Blues

2439 words - 10 pages

All of humanity suffers at one point or another during the course of their lives. It is in this suffering, this inevitable pain, that one truly experiences life. While suffering unites humankind, it is how we choose to cope with this pain that defines us as individuals. The question becomes do we let suffering consume us, or do we let it define our lives? Through James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues”, the manner by which one confronts the light and darkness of suffering determines whether one is consumed by it, or embraces it in order to “survive.” Viewing a collection of these motifs, James Baldwin’s unique perspective on suffering as a crucial component of human development becomes apparent. It is through his compassionate portrayal of life’s inescapable hardships that one finds the ability to connect with humankind’s general pool of hardship. James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” makes use of the motifs of darkness and light to illuminate the universal human condition of suffering and its coping mechanisms.
Baldwin’s story presents the heart breaking portrayal of two brothers who have become disconnected through respective life choices. The narrator is the older brother who has grown past the depravity of his childhood poverty. The narrator’s profession as an algebra teacher reflects his need for a “black” and “white,” orderly outlook on life. The narrator believes he has escaped life’s sufferings until the death of his daughter and the troubling news about his brother being taken in for drug possession broadside him to the reality of life’s inevitable suffering. In contrast, his brother, Sonny has been unable to escape his childhood hardships and has ended up on the wrong side of the law. While their lives have taken different paths, they relate to each other through different forms of suffering because in reality, they are the same. They have not escaped from anything, life is still the same as it always was. It is through these unfortunate, but inevitable, events that the brothers are able to reconnect and to obtain an understanding of each other.
The interplay of dark and light motifs underlies the narrator’s most recent hardship. On his way home on the subway, the narrator comes across his brother’s name in a newspaper and “stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside” (Baldwin). Riding in the light of the subway car, the author makes the non-suspecting narrator subject to suffering, unguarded by the protective cloak of the outside darkness. Made vulnerable by the exposed light and people surrounding him, the narrator is hit harder by the unexpected news than if he had read it in the darkness of his private room. Under the “swinging lights,” the narrator is not prepared to cope with the troubling news. This emphasizes the importance of light as a symbol for one’s need of camouflage to properly cope...

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