"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin

Essay details

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

In “Sonny’s blue”, from the perspective of narrator, the fiction expresses his observations of the world and his thinking about life by describing Sonny's experience. Also, the fiction depicts two very different lives by comparing the different experiences of narrator and Sonny and the different attitudes towards life. In the fiction, the narrator chose to compromise in order to gain the identity of the mainstream society and accepted the mainstream social values. And through his own efforts, he has lived a stable middle-class life. However, Sonny rebelled through rebellious actions such as drug abuse, thereby gaining inner peace. At this time, the two brothers have very different views on life, thus forming a huge difference. Through the article we can see the process of narrator's inner struggle, from not understanding Sonny's behavior to identification. In this paper, I will focus on whether the minority people in the United States need to compromise with mainstream values in the process of gaining mainstream social recognition.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price

From narrator’s experience, we can see that even if he succeeded in getting rid of his own neighborhood by his own efforts and lived a stable middle-class life, the problem of identity is still in his heart. In the fiction, he is a respected middle school teacher. In his growing community, he is one of the few to get rid of the chaotic environment and changed his own life. At the beginning of the fiction it says that “I was scared, scared for Sonny. He became real to me again. A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra.”

Narrator uses “ice” implies that he has been escaping from the reality in the past for long time which most of the African American still lived in restlessness, full of threats and suffering. The long-term stable life made him reluctant to face it all, so he frozen it all like ice and placed it in the deepest part of his heart. Faced with the great obstacles of bad growth environment and personal career development, he finally got rid of his growing environment through his own efforts and self-control. Not only in the geographical position, but also in the psychological aspect. As he described the young people on the street who look like Sonny. “even though he was a grown-up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corners, was always high and raggy. I used to run into him from time to time and he'd often work He always had some real good excuse, too, and I always gave it to him. I don't know why.” (par.9) The narrator describes and comments on this young man from the perspective of an observer. He does not regard himself as a member of them. At a deeper level, he was not willing to go back to the identity he once tried to get rid of. However, Sonny’s news of being arrested for drug use made him have to go back to the cold reality, which there were still a lot of African American young people were struggling to live. He realized that he was one of the few African American who could successfully become a middle class. In fact, more African American will be defeated by reality and life will fall into darkness. They would break into the bottom of society and live an inferior and miserable life. We can say that his compromise and obedience in order to gain the identity of the mainstream society has made him successful. However, it has caused the inner heart to fall into a huge contradiction.

However, instead of accepting reality by obedience to mainstream society, Sonny chose a completely different path from his brother while facing the hard life. He chose to fight and surpass. After the mother’s funeral, the brothers had their first formal conversation. “What do you want to do?” I asked him. “I’m going to be a musician,” he said. “Well, you may think it’s funny now, baby, but it’s not going to be so funny when you have to make your living at it, let me tell you that.” I was furious because I knew he was laughing at me and I didn’t know why. (par.122) We can say this communication is a conversation between an inexperienced teenager and an experienced adult. This implies the contradiction between ideal and reality. Although his narrator is very concerned about his brother, he still does not agree with Sonny's ideals. This is the first point of conflict that indicates their different attitudes towards life. It seems that Sonny is not understood by others. As narrator’s wife describe Sonny, “And the sound didn’t make any sense to her, didn’t make any sense to any of them—naturally. They began, in a way, to be afflicted by this presence that was living in their home. It was as though Sonny were some sort of god, or monster. He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all.” (par.170) He couldn’t find someone in life who could understand him and communicate with him. He believed that music was a hope in his life which could take him away from the miserable life and could let him find the peace in his inner mind. So, he closed himself in a world of his own to express resistance. It also implies that, in the context of the times, many dreams as a minority are not recognized by the mainstream society.

After this, Sonny experienced a lot of suffering, such as running away, joining the army, taking drugs, being arrested. This makes him more mature and has a deeper understanding of life. The next conversation happened after narrator’s little daughter died. “When she was singing before,” said Sonny, abruptly, “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes— when it’s in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant.” What Sonny trying to say was he could feel that woman’s pain through her singing, but narrator thought he just made excuses for his drug addiction. He thought everyone in the world can’t escape suffering. So, we just need to endure and accept it. However, Sonny believed that even though people couldn’t avoid suffering, we still could try our best to floating above the sea instead of being sink. (par.197) From this conversation, we can see a big difference of the attitude of the life between narrator and Sonny. Narrator is a passive person, he accepts everything in life, including suffering and obstacles. A big part of the reason for his passive attitude towards life is the last conversation with his mother. When she told him that some white men who drunk severely ran down the hillside on a speeding car and killed his uncle. “He says he never in his life seen anything as dark as that road after the lights of that car had gone away. Your Daddy never did really get right again. Till the day he died he weren’t sure but That every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother. I’m telling you this because you got a brother. And the world ain’t changed.” (par.102) His mother’s words had a big impact on him. This made him more cautious about the world. He protects himself by compromising the mainstream society. Also, he wants to protect his little brother in his way which he thinks is correct. As for Sonny, he is a relatively active person. He is more willing to make risks and changes to see if he can change the status of current situation. He believes that even though the world doesn’t change, he can still do something to change himself. Because he thinks the world is there, it is in his mind. That’s quiet a different view of world from his mother and brother. This is also the core reason for causing conflict. He hopes that his music can become a catharsis of people's feelings. Also, he hopes to awaken his compatriots' memory of suffering through his music, so that they can look directly into the misfortunes of life and become strong, instead of becoming numb.

At the end of the fiction, narrator listened to Sonny’s music and finally understood Sonny, the brothers reached a settlement. He gave a detailed description of Sonny's performance. Expressing a sense of identity towards African American groups, by describing the popularity of Sonny. At the same time, he found the meaning of strength and survival in groups and African American traditional culture. Sonny’s music makes him feel very touched. Sonny’s music awakens the memory of his brother’s past sufferings, which was forgotten because his compromise to mainstream society. When he was listening, he said “I saw my mother’s face again, and felt, for the first time, how the Stones of the road she had walked on must have bruised her feet. I saw the Moonlit road where my father’s brother died. And it brought something else Back to me, and carried me past it, I saw my little girl again and felt Isabel’s Tears again, and I felt my own tears begin to rise.” (par.240) This made him feel reconnected with his family and race. Also, it gave him spiritual freedom and let him return to himself. In the end, the narrator gave a glass of wine to Sonny to suggest the final reconciliation between the brothers. The narrator finally understood the suffering of Sonny and his pursuit.

In conclusion, I think as a minority in American. The most important thing is keep your identity which in another word keep who you are. From the fiction we can see that even though narrator is recognized by the mainstream society, his inner struggle did not make him truly happy. When he finally regained his sense of identity with his own race, his soul has gained great satisfaction in the depths. It is so important to keep our identity because it could let us know the meaning of our lives. If you are in pursuit of mainstream social identity by compromising and abandon its own characteristics, that will make you lose your cultural roots. Like Sonny, we should keep ourselves and look at our own race and culture in a positive attitude.

Get quality help now

Prof. Johnson

Verified writer

Proficient in: Literature

4.9 (1373 reviews)
“Good paper. Just have to change the heading to what was on the article instead of what you thought it should be.”

+75 relevant experts are online

More Sonny's Blues Related Essays

banner clock
Clock is ticking and inspiration doesn't come?
We`ll do boring work for you. No plagiarism guarantee. Deadline from 3 hours.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume you agree with our Cookies policy.