Sonny’s Blues | Introduction
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Frequently anthologized, James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" tells the story of two brothers who come to understand each other. More specifically, it highlights, through its two main characters, the two sides of the African-American experience. The narrator has assimilated into white society as much as possible but still feels the pain of institutional racism and the limits placed upon his opportunity. Conversely, Sonny has never tried to assimilate and must find an outlet for the deep pain and suffering that his status as permanent outsider confers upon him. Sonny channels his suffering into music, especially bebop jazz and the blues, forms developed by African-American musicians. "Sonny's Blues" was first published in 1957 and was collected in Baldwin's 1965 book, Going to ...view middle of the document...
" As Sonny plays, the cup reminds his brother of all of the suffering that both he and Sonny have endured. His brother finally understands that it is through music that Sonny is able to turn his suffering into something worthwhile.
Sonny’s Blues Summary
"Sonny's Blues" opens as the narrator learns from a newspaper that his younger brother, Sonny, has been arrested for dealing heroin. The narrator is taking the subway to his high-school teaching job. At the end of the school day, the "insular and mocking" laughter of his students reminds him that as youths he and Sonny had been filled with rage and had known "two darknesses"—the one of their lives and the one of the movies that made them momentarily forget about their lives. Leaving the school, the narrator comes across an old friend of Sonny's in the school yard.
While Sonny's friend and the narrator talk about Sonny's arrest, they tell each other some of their fears. In front of a bar that blasts "black and bouncy'' music, the friend, who is not given a name, says that he "can't much help old Sonny no more.'' This angers the narrator because it reminds him that he himself had given up trying to help his brother because he had not known how; indeed, he had not even seen Sonny in a year. It disturbs the narrator to see his situation shared by someone who is not even related to Sonny. The friend mentions that he thought Sonny was too smart to get caught in a drug bust. In anger, the narrator criticizes the friend, sarcastically implying that the friend must have been smarter since he had not been arrested himself. The friend pauses and replies that he would have killed himself a long time ago if he were really smart, implying that he believes death is better than addiction. He then begins to explain to the older brother how he feels responsible for turning Sonny onto drugs, but the narrator breaks in and asks what will happen to Sonny next. The friend says that Sonny will be sent to a place where they will try and cure him and then he will be let loose to start his habit again. When... » Complete Sonny’s Blues Summary