Several passages found throughout "Sonny's Blues" indicate that as a whole, the neighborhood of Harlem is in the turmoil of a battle between good and evil. The narrator describes Sonny's close encounters with the evil manifested in drugs and crime, as well as his assertive attempts at distancing himself from the darker side.
The streets and communities of Harlem are described as being a harsh environment which claims the lives of many who have struggled against the constant enticement of emotional escape through drugs, and financial escape through crime. Sonny's parents, just like the others in Harlem, have attempted to distance their children from the dark sides of their ...view middle of the document...
The students are all at risk for the same fate which befell Sonny's uncle. The hit-and-run incident which killed him was one of the expected casualties of the war unfolding around Sonny. Everyone knows an individual could fall at any given moment, but as was described in the living room scene remembered from many years ago, the hardships are not openly spoken of. Therein lies the critical error of insufficient emotional expression, which will be described later by the section dealing with jazz.
As it pertains to the war scene, the lack of emotional expression is also demonstrated when Sonny's brother glimpses a barmaid going about her life at work. Sonny's brother, also the narrator of the story, watches "her face as she laughingly responded to something someone said to her, still keeping time to the music. When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still-struggling woman beneath the battered face of the semi-whore". Primarily, the term "doomed" stands out most strongly. Viewed through different glasses, she could just as easily be a young soldier, lost in a land of terror, attempting to live up to the strength of a mature fighter. Both of these examples demonstrate how Baldwin portrays Harlem as a war-torn community. These people were unwittingly drafted the day they were born. As schoolchildren they're already out on the battlefield dodging drugs, alcohol, and crime involvement. As previously mentioned, Sonny has crafted a personal weapon for him to use out on the battlefield of the Harlem streets.
The jazz, which Sonny has begun using to his advantage, is not at all a safe weapon to hold. Due to drug use, the jazz crowd is explained as being a very unstable one. Sonny states that they use drugs such as heroin "In order to keep from shaking to pieces". The concerned voice of the narrator responds, "But these friends of yours...they seem to shake themselves to pieces pretty goddamn fast". The drugs themselves are portrayed as a gray zone between good and evil (Rapport).
On one hand, they are being used by the jazz musicians to help expand their music and broaden their ability to express emotions through it. On the other hand, those same drugs have claimed the lives of many players who took one step too far into the grey-zone and fell prey to the aggressively addictive tendencies of heroin. This classic case of 'playing with fire' does an exquisitely good job at deepening the conflict. Sonny ponders the heroin-using jazz players he has interacted with ‘some guys, you can tell from the way they play, they on something all the time. And you can see that, well, it makes something real for them. But of course, '...