“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is a story on how two brothers come to turn on each other as a pillar of strength to get through life’s hardships. The story started when the narrator, the older brother, read it in a paper that Sonny was arrested for peddling and using heroin. While on his way home, he meets Sonny’s friend. The friend tells him that Sonny is just going to be brought in a rehabilitation center. While Sonny is in a rehabilitation center, the narrator starts getting in touch with him. He writes him a letter about the death of his daughter Gracie.
Eventually, Sonny sends the narrator his condolences through a letter and gives him am assurance that he is going to go back to Harlem. After he got away from the rehab, he indeed went to Harlem and met his brother. The narrator then remembered their childhood. Their mother used to tell the narrator that he has to take care of his young brother. Remembering this, he attempted to ask his brother what he wanted to do with his life. Sonny in reply told him that he wanted to become a jazz musician. It is through using heroin that Sonny was able to create his music.
With Sonny’s music, on one hand, the narrator has realized that jazz can make them assert the Black’s cultural identities and free themselves from discriminations. Baldwin is successful in chronicling the experiences and the sufferings of the Blacks during the Harlem by incorporating first person point of view, Harlem setting, Black American characters, and Jazz music in the plot. All these render the story authenticity that makes the portrayal of Black American life very successful. The first person point of view is best employed in this story to give authenticity to the narration.
I believe that Sonny’s brother is the most credible person to narrate the story of his brother. Apart from knowing him since birth, he also saw him grow up. In the words of the narrator, “I was remembering, and it made it hard to catch my breath, that I had been there when he was born; and I had heard the first words he had ever spoken. When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him before he fell when he took the first steps he ever took in this world (Litz 608).
He was also the one whom his brother confided of his addiction to drugs and his aspirations to become a musician. In other words, aside from being a brother, he is also a listening ear to him. As mentioned earlier, the narration is effective because of the credibility of the first person narrator. The setting is also very effective in outlining the predicament of Sonny and the reason of his drug abuse. The Harlem is where Black Americans from the South has migrated because of too much racial discrimination. This means that the Blacks located in Harlem have been discriminated at some point of their lives.
When Sonny confided to his brother the reason why he takes heroin, he said that he needed to feel-in-control which means that somehow he felt controlled. “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. And – and sure… It makes you feel- in control (Litz 365). ” The characters were also very appropriate for there are no other characters that can best portray the Black life than Black Americans themselves. The brothers come from a Black family where both parents suffered torture and death.
They are the typical, middle-class Black Americans in a Black community of Harlem. Finally, the plot has incorporated something that is authentically Black, the Jazz music. History tells us that Jazz music is always associated to the Black American culture. It has been known to have showcased their culture and identity. In the story, Jazz music is used by Baldwin to signify triumph that the brothers especially Sonny right after the brothers re-united. It was the narrator’s act of reaching out to his brother and Sonny’s opening up to the narrator that brought them back together and decided to tackle life’s hardships together.
The ending of the story exhibit how Sonny succeeded in realizing his dreams of becoming a successful Jazz musician and finding his life in music. “They all gathered around Sonny and Sonny played. Every now and again one of them seemed to say, amen. Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. but that life contained so many others (Litz 632). ” The last statement says it all. The life that Sonny found in Jazz music involves all the others who gather around him, and who are touched with his music. Among these people is his brother who just had an epiphany on life and living the same way as Sonny has because of his music.