Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin: Character, Imagery, Theme, and Point of View

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Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin: Character, Imagery, Theme, and Point of View

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Table of Contents

  • Character
  • Imagery
  • Theme
  • Point of View
  • Conclusion

In writing, authors use several literary elements to convey the message they intend for their audiences. On this paper, a literary analysis for Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin will be the main focus. To help in the course of this study, some literary elements such as theme, character, plot, figurative language, imagery, and point of view will be analyzed in detail.


The literature work majorly focuses on Sonny, who is the main character, and Sonny's brother. The literary element Character can be categorized into two; a protagonist character and an antagonistic character.

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In James Baldwin's short story Sonny's Blues set up in New York City shortly after World War II, Sonny can be viewed as the multilayered protagonist character. The story is based on a character who is aspiring to become a jazz musician. The character overcomes an addiction to heroin and racism in the institutions to fulfill his dreams of becoming a jazz pianist.

At the start of the short story, the reader is informed that Sonny's addiction to drugs will force the character to go through a prison sentence. Another barrier that Sonny faces is that of poor education. All these factors must be overcome for the main goal to be achieved. In this short story, Baldwin was able to create a very flawed and yet likable main character. Sonny can be seen as a decent young individual who is only held back by the circumstances and lack of opportunity. The readers are found wishing success despite the character's poor education and society's limits of the Black American. The success is attained as after Sonny is done with the prison sentence; the character is now seen focusing on the set goal.


Baldwin uses imagery to create visual images of the setting of the plot and the characters' behavior as well. Imagery assists readers in getting the exact theme the writer intended to be achieved so that the message is delivered successfully. The moment the two brothers (Sonny and Sonny's brother) share a beer, the beer can be crushed by Sonny creates an image on the readers' mind of the perspiration that is often present during the hot summers of New York City. When the author narrates on the death of Sonny's uncles, the readers' senses are triggered due to the gruesome murder. New York City is a representation of cultural and social diversity. The city is a direct comparison of chaos and struggles for oppressed people, and it may be right to say that if the story was based in another place, it would lose its underlying tension.


The main subject of Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin is not the state of poor education or drug addiction as many may claim. The main theme of the short story is discrimination and social injustice. The story constantly mentions the instance of ‘The War' though not stating which war specifically, but in most cases might be the one which occurred in the 20th century (Baldwin 34). During that period, Black Americans were facing discrimination and social injustices due to their racial decedent. It is these two factors that cause Sonny to lack a good education and turn to heroin. It is also through these two factors that Sonny's Uncle is run over by a white man and murdered, and no justice is taken. Discrimination and social injustice are clearly shown in the short story and assisted by other literary elements to bring out the theme.

Point of View

Baldwin's Sonny's Blues uses point of view literary element to set the mode of the narration so that readers can 'see' and 'hear' what was taking place in the story. 'I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn't believe it, I and I reread it. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story' (Baldwin 54). From the moment the story is introduced, the readers are made aware that Sonny's brother is in a state of disbelief and disappointing due to the action of Sonny. The reader is set to a sad mood due to that fact that there is a young man who is facing a prison sentence due to drug addiction.


The author of this short story has successfully incorporated the literary elements that assisted the readers in comprehending what was intended for them. The use of imagery, a point of view, and theme allow the readers to create vivid images of the scenes are can closely associate with the narration. The use of character and style allowed the author to create and maintain a sense of interest in the readers as they can interact with the author's creations.

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