Themes in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin
After reading the short story "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, I find there are two major themes that Baldwin is trying to convey, suffering and irony. The first theme that he brings out and tries to get the reader to understand is the theme of suffering. The second theme that the author illustrates is the theme of irony.
James Baldwin writes about two African-American brothers growing up in Harlem, a black ghetto in New York, during the 1950's. During this time black people were forced to live in a world of prejudice, discrimination, poverty and suppression. The life of a black person was very difficult; many opportunities afforded to whites were not afforded to blacks. Sonny and his brother lived in the projects and had many obstacles to overcome that white people didn't have to. Sonny chose music to outwardly express his suffering, his brother chose to bottle it up and keep it inside, but this is the common thread they both shared. Suffering is also shown in the story when Baldwin says "it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind" (P 47). I think this quote means that both Sonny and his older brother want to retrieve some of their past so that it can help them cope with what has happened in their lives. If Sonny and his brother can both cope with what has happened in their lives and get over it, I think t they both can start moving forward and putting this behind them.
I feel having Sonny's brother narrate the story in the first person is Baldwin's way of telling us that Sonny's brother is also suffering but inside, unlike Sonny who takes drugs and sings the blues. Sonny's brother remains nameless because I feel he prefers to remain anonymous; he's too embarrassed to have people know that this college educated math teacher has a drug addict blues musician for a brother. What would his students and their parents think; what would the administration of his school think. Sonny's brother suffers also, but unlike Sonny, he suffers internally. Both of these brothers are feeling the pain that a white dominated society has dealt them but in different ways. Sonny isn't as strong as his brother so he turns to drugs for comfort and also to forget. On the other hand, his brother is able to internalize the pain and go through life, facing the obstacles as they come and trying to make the best of a situation. Perhaps studying to become a teacher was his way to escape the harsh realities of living in a white man's world.
There are a couple of examples of racism that are brought out in this story. The first example of racism that I came across was about the death of Sonny's uncle who was hit by a car driven by a group of drunken white people. The repercussions of the treatment received by black people...