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The James Baldwins Sonnys Blues English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1349 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Baldwin implies that the brothers can become estranged and separated when they have opposite views of life after they grow up. The narrator is a stable family man with a wife and two children. He is seven years Sonny’s senior and leads the reader to believe that he has tried, at times during their lives, to parent and protect Sonny. Though the narrator teaches school in Harlem and is often reminded of Sonny by his students he distances himself emotionally from them. The narrator also seems to be very pious towards these students often looking down on them with judgment and superiority. This is evident when the narrator is reading the newspaper article about Sonny’s arrest. The article details a drug raid in which Sonny has been arrested and jailed. The narrator instead of being consumed with concern for his brother is more embarrassed by the article. As embarrassment and anger wash over him, the narrator is approached by one of Sonny’s childhood friends, an addict who blames himself for Sonny’s addiction and subsequent arrest. The narrator and the friend discuss what has happened to Sonny, and we see the narrator begin, with anger, to try to understand how and why Sonny has chosen to walk this path.

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Sonny on the other hand is the exact opposite of his brother he has known nothing but jail and drug usage. Compelled only by his love for music and the need to let out his true feeling about life on stage, Sonny has lived a far more sordid life. Despite the fact that his first time hearing from his brother in years was at the death of his niece, Sonny still reaches out to his brother asking for forgiveness, trying to explain how and why he came to the point that he was using and selling heroin. When Sonny is released from prison, the narrator brings him back to live with his family in Harlem and begins trying to repair their relationship and true bond of brothers begins to show.

Baldwin begins to paint a picture of the narrator and Sonny’s experiences through a series of narrator flashbacks. Into various scenes that occurred during their young adulthood. Before her death, his mother spoke with him regarding his responsibilities to Sonny, telling him, “You got to hold on to your brother…don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you get with him…you may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’re there” His unwillingness to fulfill his mother’s last wishes shows just how malignant the relationship between the two is. In one scene, their mother asks the narrator to take care of Sonny and to watch out for him when she dies. She tells him that his own father had had a brother who was very much like Sonny, but who was killed. The mother also insinuates that this event of the passing of his uncle had been the cause of much torture for his father until the day he died. As a reader the underlying message is perceived as if you don’t take care of your brother you may live to regret it. This also is a testament to how strong the bond between his father and his uncle were.

Though Sonny needs for his brother to understand what he is trying to communicate to him and why he makes the choices he makes, the narrator cannot or will not hear what Sonny is trying to convey. In distancing himself from the pain of his surroundings, he has disabled the ability to develop an understanding of his brother’s motivations. Instead, his disapproval of Sonny’s choice to become a musician and his choices regarding the direction of his life in general is apparent.

The narrator’s biggest problem with Sonny seems to be that he feels as though Sonny lacks any real goals or aspirations in life. Seeing as how the narrator and Sonny were both afforded the same opportunities in life the narrator does not understand how and why Sonny chooses to pursue what he does. Baldwin writes the narrator believed that “people can’t always do exactly what they want to do”. But Sonny believed that “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?” It is these two statements that are the critical stress point in the relationship between the two brothers. Baldwin hopes to portray that the concept of lives affects people’s attitudes and communication the narrator did not understand the music and his brother, so the emotional distance between the brothers broadened. The narrator’s disapproval of Sonny’s decision to become a musician stems primarily from his view of musicians in general. His experiences with musicians have led him to believe that they are unmotivated, drug users, seeking only good times and a high from life. He does not really understand what motivates Sonny to play music until the afternoon he accompanies Sonny to his performance at a nightclub. That afternoon, Sonny explains to him that music is his voice, his way of expressing his suffering and releasing his pent-up feelings. That evening, as he finally listens to his brother play, he is finally able to understand what Sonny is saying through his music: “I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth. He had made it his: that long line, of which we knew only Mama and Daddy. And he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that, passing through death, it can live forever.” This is a pinnacle point in the story because this is the first time since adulthood that the narrator has been able to connect with Sonny. This is when the narrator finally is able to feel pride in his brother’s accomplishments and to be there for him in a way he has not been before. He is finally acting in good faith, and his opinion of his brother evolves from one of disapproval and disappointment in a boy’s dream to one of pride in a man’s accomplishments.

It is only as the narrator witness Sonny in his element, that he realizes playing the music helps him remain whole and stay sane. Music is the primary medium through wish Sonny chooses to connect on an emotional level. As Baldwin concludes the story, the narrator finally begins to understand Sonny’s struggle and how music helps him endure and feel a sense of triumph over life. More importantly this is the moment in which the bond between the two brothers has triumphed over all. Because Sonny does not give up and concentrates on his music, he wins his brother’s understanding which lead to the rebirth of the brothers’ relationship.

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Sonny’s Blues implies that when people have different concepts about life, their relationship can change, even people as close as two brothers should be. The difference of experiences and opinions can cause a rift however, when we open our mind, our relationship can heal. At the end of the story, Baldwin writes, “But just before they started playing again, Sonny sipped from it and looked toward me, and nodded”. The narrator accepted his brother through the music he understands his brother and releases the strain in their relationship. The brothers both understand and accept each other’s lives. Even though the narrator and Sonny had arguments, they did reconcile the conflict and understand each other.

In conclusion, even as a reader who does not have any direct siblings I can still connect with what the author is trying to state. I have been in similar situations with some of my closest relatives in which we may have had a difference in opinion or a lack of communication in regards to the choices we were making sometimes these moments led to separation. However, the love that is between us as family has always prevailed. Often times serving to bring us closer to each other then we were before. James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is more than a story about two brothers it is a story about what it means to be brothers.


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