What does Sonny’s experience symbolize in the face of his brother’s?

Initial Post Instructions

With “Sonny’s Blues” we have complex characters who, in one case, served the county in uniform and came home to raise children; in Sonny’s case, that homeward journey led to addiction and a love of jazz.

What does Sonny’s experience symbolize in the face of his brother’s? Is he responsible for his own addiction? Is his love of jazz music a distraction that he should do his best to overcome? Or is Baldwin using the character of Sonny, his addiction, and his talent to point to something larger that was taking place in the African American society of his time?

Sample Essay Answer

Sonny’s experience with failure and drug abuse symbolizes his failure and regret to keep his promise with his mother to look after his brother. His mother clearly stated through the main character’s confidence in his brother being a good kid that even the good may fall. I think the main character’s confidence in his own brother is what made him forget this promise until his mother’s passing. Even after he remembers this promise he still seems to ignore it. In fact, the main character seems to have a large problem with bottling feelings up and ignoring them; or even ignoring confrontation at all. However, I do not believe that the main character is at fault for Sonny’s addiction. I believe all this was made up by the author to point to a much larger problem, the racial issues going on in this time of the Harlem Renaissance.

            The short story often takes small breaks going deep into the description of what life was like in Harlem in the 20’s. The main character describes this area by stating “boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves encircled by disaster. . . Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap” (Baldwin, 2009). The two boys are so lost into their ride through their childhood they barely speak to one another. Another deep entrance into the struggles of African Americans at this time in the novel was described when the mother was telling the son the story of his uncle’s death. “The car was full of white men. They was all drunk, and when they seen your father’s brother they let out a great whoop and holler and they aimed the car straight at them” (Baldwin, 2009). This quote gives the reader the understanding of how poorly the African Americans were looked at by white people. Almost as animals they could just hit and run laughing along the way. I think James Baldwin made a very indirectly powerful statement on the racial crisis during this period in time.

References

Baldwin, James. Sonny Blues. The Hazz Fiction Anthology. Ed Sascha Feinstein and David Rife. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/wooda/2B-HUM/Readings/Baldwin-Sonnys-Blues.pdf

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