“Sonny Blues” by James Baldwin is a story between two brothers from Harlem who confront their pain and suffering in altered ways. Sonny is arrested at the beginning of the story due to heroin use, while his brother the narrator is a schoolteacher trying to better his students and the community. Throughout the story, the reader views numerous points with the lives of the characters seen as the narrators point of view. The story ends with Sonny playing the blues in the club, while his brother is listening.
Music helps them deal with the pain and suffering. The story advises that sometimes music can help people represent pain, passion, and suffering, while dealing with problems and understanding one another. Sonny is presented as a troubled youth who grows into a troubled man: “These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual 371 Suffering can come In many shape and forms, with the young boys in Harlem having the mindset that they have a little chance of “making something” of themselves.
They are living in a community where it has perished with to many opportunities to become successful. Sonny has ambition of becoming an exceptional and musician, but unfortunately the drug environment In Harlem haunts him into falling into a stereotypical African-American who is not successful but lives poor and does drugs trying to make in Harlem. The narrator feels deficient because he is trying to teach high school math to students who might never get out of Harlem.
He knows that drugs Is not the answer to anyone’s problems but he understands that there might be something more pleasurable then learning algebra: It had appended and here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe It did more for them than algebra could” (Baldwin 367). Even though the narrator knows’ he Is trying to better his community, he gets discouraged of what all is surrounding him and his students while living in Harlem.
Sonny has been using the heroin to conceal the pain and issues he has within himself. Once he is released from Jail Sonny must face his problems, and he uses the Jazz to accomplish this. As the reader. E see that Sonny changes by being able to deal with his pain and suffering through music instead of drugs. Music was Sonny’s dream at a young age he wanted to become phenomenal musician. Laurie Champion states, “The narrator continues to question Sonny about his goals, asks him what type of musician he desires to be, and demands that Sonny answer him seriously.
Sonny says he wants to be a jazz musician” (Champion). The narrator wonders if his brother will have what it takes to become a musician. He says, ;l think people ought to do what they want to do, what else they are alive The narrator wants to understand why e wants to make this career choice and lifestyle, Since he cannot understand, the reasoning behind Sonny’s decision he feels as though he does not know him. “He FIFO graduates” (Champion). The narrator feels agitated with Sonny’s fate in life. He wants him to have a stable and secure lifestyle.
The Harlem resistance was an era where jazz music was becoming popular in America but was not always accepted the type of music was considered foul in some social society classes. A European director states: “The teaching of Jazz is not only the right but also the duty every up-to-date musical institution. ‘So far, so good. He continues, ‘An infusion of negro blood can do no harm. It will help to develop a wholesome sense of rhythm, which after all constitutes the life element of music” (Salomon 734).
Harlem is rich in history and culture, throughout the years it has seen everything from poverty to urban growth. The community stayed strong throughout its rough times and this became a model for other black urban areas. Although the Harlem Renaissance was short lived, it changed the face of black America forever. The word Renaissance brings to mind a rebirth of art, music, and culture. Sonny is in desperate need of a rebirth in his life to be able to make himself and his family proud of him.
Sonny’s brother the narrator has struggled with pain throughout his lifetime. He has learned how to deal with his struggle of pain through interactions with others and family. Throughout the story, he is distant towards Sonny, but does not do it initially: “He and Sonny hadn’t ever got on too well. Moreover, this was partly because Sonny was the apple of his father’s eye. It was because he loved Sonny so much and was frightened for him, that he was always fighting for him” (Baldwin 374). A family happiness is based on a successful and strong bonding between the members.
Relationships between father and son are often conflicted while the son is growing up, but on the other hand, the relationship of father and son can be a great friendship between the two. If they are in conflict, it can really affect the family as a whole. This can cause a burden on the son because he wants to live his own life and follow his dreams, not what his father wants. Terry Heeler states: “The narrator and Sonny have found alternative ways of making meaning and order. The narrator sakes a literal family and a conventional career, as his father did.
Sonny becomes an artist, one who expresses for himself and his community and to himself and his community the passions that unite them. By expressing these passions, giving them order in articulation and making them meaningful, he also makes and sustains a kind of family, a community of shared moments of meaning” (Heeler). The narrator does not use drugs when he has to deal with pain, but he seems to have anxiety and can feels the pain physical as well as emotionally. When he says: “A great block of ice got titled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra.
It was a special kind of ice… Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream” (Baldwin 366). This allows the reader to see how the narrator handles anger and pain by keeping his emotions inside, it makes him want to scream. The narrator also feels guilt and loneliness for not fulfilling their mother request of him making sure Sonny knew he was there for him. Reilly states: “The idea f meriting your suffering is a staggering one.
In the face of it the narrator’s inclination to talk about Will power and how life could be well beautiful,’ is blunted, because he senses that by directly confronting degradation Sonny has asserted what Watching Sonny go through multiple devastating life changes has affected the narrator emotionally. He loves his brother but does not understand him. They both are analyzing the world with two different perspectives, as though they did while they were looking out the window in the cab. Sonny’s life is completely different from his brother’s life and as a result, sonny skies to use music as a way to convey his reality.
The Jazz he prefers to listen to and play is less traditional music. He enjoys the artists who are spontaneous while the music relied on instinct then a formal session. Musicians who were like sonny who valued freedom of expression loved Jazz music. This provided a chance to live freely, go against social conventions and a normal society, while creating original music. Barman states: “The man who created the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air.
What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason” (Barman 370). Sonny will always be different from his brother, he is not the average person who works a regular Job and lives a plain life. Sonny is a musician and music feeds his soul and helps him cope with the reality of the community he lives in. Since Sonny is a musician and his brother is not and has not experienced the same struggles. Sonny has an alternative family who understands his music and the life that comes with being an artist.
This secondary family helps Sonny because his brother is not very close to him at the time and does not understand his lifestyle. This gives Sonny a since of Joy that he has people around him that is Just like him and who cares about him and his music. Music heals the soul. Music is therapy that helps people get through all emotions whether you are suffering, in pain, angry, or happy. Music can also define who you are and your type of lifestyle and it does for Sonny. The narrator finally starts to understand his brother as musician and understands why his brother needs his sic to express himself.
As the narrator is watching and listening to Sonny play at the nightclub he describes a glass sitting over Sonny’s piano as shaking “like the very cup trembling” (Baldwin 388). The narrator states this to show a difficult position Sonny is in, this reference comes from the Bible. Where the cup of trembling is a symbol to describe the suffering and fear the people have. The biblical passage says there will be a relief from suffering and the narrator believes that the cup is a reminder of all the pain he has endured but also giving him a chance of redemption and peace.
Sonny is a musician and he turns all his sorrow into music that is from the heart and beautiful. The ending of the story is very significant because the two brothers finally understand one another and can live in peace. They understand that pain and suffering will always be around in life, because it is a part of life. The importance is now they both know how to handle their emotions in a proper way. While the narrator is watching Sonny play the piano at the nightclub, he realizes that Sonny has found his way back to his musical family and that he is a part of his original family again.