Jazz Healing Power According to Sonny’s Older Brother in “Sonny’s Blues” James Baldwin sets “Sonny’s Blues” in Harlem around the 1 ass’s. He paints a picture of a place where poverty Is rampant In contrast with other places close by where people were rich and lived in fancy homes. This contrast is demonstrated during the taxi ride the brothers take alongside Central Park. In Harlem, the housing projects abound and “the playgrounds are popular with children who don’t play at Jacks, or skip rope, or roller skate, or wing, and they can be found In It after ark” (Baldwin 42).
Harem’s cultural development relates to the people’s need to find a way to express their feelings and perhaps their pain. Music has a strong hold on both the story and the life in Harlem. Although there are other arts which are used therapeutically, Baldwin focus Is on the Jazz’s progressively healing effect on both the narrator and on Sonny on “Sonny Blues”. The music has surrounded the narrator his whole life but he does not have a clear understanding of its significance for Sonny or for other people. He listens to the music but does not relate to It.
After class, he listens to a boy whistling as if it was the first time In his life he listens to whistling. The melody seems to him to be “pouring out of him… And it sounded very cool and moving Just holding its own (Baldwin 37). He feels the music but does not experience the deep feeling Sonny expresses about It yet. His knowledge of Jazz is very limited and he is not “touched” by It. Before their mother’s death she talks to him about their fathers brother who was a musician and about his death. She also asks him to look out for Sonny but him even though he promises to do it, he forgets his promise.
This promise later in life causes the narrator to fell that he failed Sonny the narrator’s and Sonny’s relationship goes through a lot of strain because they do not have a connection, they Like different things having nothing in common. Sonny involvement with jazz and later with drugs reaffirms the narrators feelings against jazz. The narrator finds that his brother has been arrested for heroin peddling while reading about it on the newspaper on his way to school where he taught. The news affected him because Sonny was a jazz musician.
The narrators opinion is that jazz musicians fall into the name category of the people his father used to call “good time people” (Baldwin 46), people who hangs “around night clubs, clowning around on bandstands, while people pushed each other around a dance floor” (Baldwin 46). The narrator begins to analyze what went wrong with sonny after his arrest. He thinks that sonny was trying to kill himself by using drugs and that the drug use is somehow linked to jazz. While both the narrator and Sonny had been soldiers, the narrator returned and became a teacher while Sonny became a Jazz musician.
This difference caused even more strain In an already almost not existent relationship. The narrator refuses to listen to his brother play jazz and Sonny in turn finds a more understanding crowd in his drug using friends which ultimately leads to his arrest. The narrator listens to a woman I OFF the people through a window observing both the singers and the watchers feeling the strangeness of the situation. He observes that even though it is not the first time of a street revival been done, still it has an effect on the people.
He sees a change take place in them when they are touched by the music. The narrator senses that they know who they are, where they come from, and what they have gone through in heir life. The woman singer sings a song about salvation. He feels that they do not believe in what the song say because “they do not believe in the holiness of the three sisters and the brother [they were] divided by very little” (Baldwin 51). Besides they have not being rescued from their misery, they have not seen “much in the way of rescue work being done around them” (Baldwin 51).
While he is standing still by the window, Sonny is on the street with the crowd, actively listening to the revival. Sonny leaves the revival and arrives at the narrator’s apartment while the narrator is still incisive and begins to attempt to communicate with the narrator leading to a heart to heart conversation between them. The narrator makes a conscious attempt to listen because “something told me that I should curb my tongue, that Sonny was doing his best to talk, that I should listen” Baldwin 53).
Sonny tells him that when he was listening to the woman singing “something struck me all of a sudden how much suffering she must have gone through-to sing like that. It’s repulsive to think you have to suffer” (Baldwin 53). The narrator questions Sonny about this point when he responds “But there’s no way not to suffer-is there, Sonny? Baldwin 53). The street revival and the conversation with Sonny make the narrator to want to understand the significance of the music. When Sonny asks him to go to the club to listen to him play jazz, he accepts marking the beginning of his enlightenment.
At the club, he listens to Sonny play Jazz noticing that “he and the piano stammered” (Baldwin 57) when he began to play. The narrator pays close attention for the first time; he observes the change coming over Sonny and the other music players. He sees them establish real communication between them, reach an understanding beyond words. Sonny comes more intense, more involved and this change brings on a change on the narrator. He begins to grasp the emotions involved in Jazz.
Creole, the band leader “hits something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself and the music tightened and deepened they were not about anything very new [they] were keeping it new at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard” (Baldwin 57). The narrator begins to understand the healing power of Jazz thinking that the Ochs had shifted to Sonny and Sonny’s relationship with it when he says “Listen, Creole seemed to be saying, listen.
Now these are Sonny’s blues” (Baldwin 57). The narrator’s understanding deepens when he say “l seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours … Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last that he could help us to be free if we would listen … And he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that, passing through death, it can live forever And it brought something else back to me, and aired me past it and carried me past it. The narrator sums all his emotions and his complete understanding of Jazz healing power when he says “And I was yet aware that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky’ (Baldwin 58). Sonny’s change has a direct effect on the narrator’s change. He finally grasps what Sonny has tried to tell him before, that Jazz has a strong healing power for the pain and suffering not only him but for the narrator too if he would be willing to rid himself of the prejudices and open his mind to hear and be carried away to be healed by the power of Jazz.