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you free.´ That may be true, but I don¶t understand why. For starters, it is usually the whole idea of dreams that most people like as opposed to the bitter truth. Technically speaking, things like dreams may indeed be grounded in reality but are not necessarily attainable or even realistic ± pretty much like lies. Still, it is an integral part of the human experience. It¶s undeniable that many people desire these means of escape from the nightmare we usually call reality. Yes, reality does bite. If given the chance, it will swallow you whole. In all seriousness, when we take into consideration the fact that a dream may give people hope or a direction in life, it would seem that it is the ideal goal. But then, when reality sets in, the problem starts. We may realize that there¶s more to life than simply having the luxury of pursuing dreams. When that realization dawns on us, life then becomes a huge dilemma in choosing between our dreams and being stable. For Sonny in ³Sonny¶s Blues,´ there was no question: his dream is what he lives for. In order to do so, he had to face issues with his relationship with his brother, his predicament and himself. To understand ³Sonny¶s Blues´ better, some facts about the author should first be noted. Sonny¶s Blues was written by James Baldwin, an African-American writer. As a Teenager, Baldwin had already developed his writing skills as he grew up in Harlem (Schilb 318). Baldwin then became a preacher at his father¶s church at age 14 and underwent a dramatic religious conversion in a Harlem church, an event described in detail in ³The Fire Next´ Time and used in his first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (Tackach 109). He even became a junior minister. Later on, Baldwin left the church. According to Campbell, Baldwin did leave the church but the
he struggled in dealing with his ³controlling´ brother. he still had struggles of his own. By that statement. Sonny struggled with a heroin addiction and. Sonny¶s brother never saw how important jazz was for Sonny. Sonny¶s brother had other plans and letting Sonny be a jazz pianist isn¶t one of it. Campbell meant that despite Baldwin¶s abandonment of the church. He claimed that he wasn¶t learning anything in school and he decided to just pursue his dream of being a jazz pianist. Even if Sonny¶s brother was supposedly financially stable as an Algebra teacher.´ you can see a reflection of Baldwin¶s African-American heritage as he tackled issues of racism and music. The mother¶s words indicated that she was very much aware of the evils in the . he also endured the pain of losing a daughter. equanimity.church never left him (Campbell 110). The story¶s theme of having family ties was constantly being shown and it was what kept the two main characters bonded. Aside from having disagreements with Sonny. In ³Sonny¶s Blues. they still had some sort of connection. Sonny¶s brother had a dialogue with their mother. Baldwin had works that had themes of responsibility. In one part of the story. The story showed their contrasting views in life in the form of their constant arguments in flashbacks. Both of them had their own struggles. all he saw was the impracticality of Sonny¶s idea of pursuing a dream. Like Baldwin. Readers can observe that even if they had arguments and they were far from one another. and tolerance (Schilb 319). particularly jazz. you can still see the religious themes in his works. identity frustration and bitterness along with understanding. love. and the mother said: ³You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. However. Sonny and his brother both grew up in Harlem. That pain he shared with Sonny. pain. The mother¶s use of double negatives in talking with Sonny¶s brother made me feel a very personal connection between them. They were still brothers no matter what happened. for the most part. But you got to let him know you¶s there´ (328).
In the earlier parts of the story. The dialogue between Sonny¶s brother and the mother was seemingly constructed by Baldwin to describe the pains that racism caused. the promise Sonny¶s brother made is one of the biggest challenges for him as he and Sonny did not understand each other very well. In that particular part of the story. And the world ain¶t changed. The mother described the uncle as ³nothing but blood and pulp´ (328).´ which indicated that Sonny¶s life was . For me. He said: ³I didn¶t want to believe that I¶d ever see my brother going down. coming to nothing. she said: ³I ain¶t telling you this to make you scared or bitter or to make you hate nobody. and she wanted Sonny¶s brother to take care of Sonny. Both lines exhibited the bitterness dealt by racism. The vivid description employed intensified the horrific experience of the father that he kept from his children even until his death. issues on drug addiction were brought up. Yet. It may reflect racism and the impossibility of its eradication. there was also a graphic description of how the father¶s brother died.world. in the condition I¶d already seen on many others. The mother also told Sonny¶s brother of the story of their uncle who got hit by a car ³full of white men´ who were all drunk (327). I¶m telling you this because you got a brother.´ which implied that she saw the world as dangerous and it will stay that way. all that light in his face gone out. Sonny¶s brother couldn¶t believe what happened to Sonny. To quote from the mother. its lasting effect on the mind and the mere fact that it may go unpunished. the two most powerful lines of the mother portraying of the significance of racism in ³Sonny¶s Blues´ were: ³the car kept a-going and it ain¶t stopped till this day´ and ³Till the day he died he weren¶t sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother´ (328). The first part of the story.
He wanted to escape. were living as we¶d been living then. nothing has changed. Aside from being a weakness. I was just older´ (338). It seemed like reality was harsh for the children who grew up in the projects.´ which implies that those children may have known at an early age that they had no future. after a pause. but he found out that it was futile. heroin addiction was also an inescapable past where Sonny learned from. when I ran away. Nearing the latter part of the story." the narrator. The assumption that the people in their neighborhood are likely to have feelings of hopelessness is supported by the description of Sonny¶s brother of how boys grew up there. they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. Sonny looked back in his life and told his brother: ³the reason why I wanted to leave Harlem so bad was to get away from drugs. And then.´ which suggests that it is possible that their poor neighborhood in Harlem may give boys there a feeling of hopelessness in their situation. responds with genuine understanding to Sonny's statement knowing his brother¶s vulnerability and that Sonny¶s brother is ready to fulfill the promise that he made to his mother to care for Sonny in her absence (Tackach 116). which is why they may resort to things like the use of illicit drugs to have some form of escape.somehow deteriorating and that heroin addiction is not something new to him (319). He even said that maybe heroin ³did more to them than algebra could. When Sonny confesses that his need for heroin "can come again. . The heroin addiction of Sonny also embodied his weaknesses. When I came back. I hadn¶t changed. that¶s what I was running from really. He said: ³These boys. now.
Sonny¶s brother saw Sonny perform. Towards the end of the story. Sonny¶s brother begins to understand Sonny more and more. and with his interior life. namely. the brother¶s wife. As he risks expression. Sonny was watching some revivalists who were singing a song and he saw that the sister who was singing reminded him of how heroin felt in his veins. Isabel. Sonny takes his brother to the only nightclub downtown to show the aspect of Sonny that his brother deemed irrelevant. the notebook with green cover which reflects the vibrancy of Sonny¶s life through music. when I read that Sonny was ³looking directly at the woman with a little smile´ (334) as he gave her some change. For the first time. Now. . Communal making of music connects Sonny with his fellow musicians. On a personal note. emblematic of the creative life he hopes to lead. the narrator. That particular event has significance with the theme of ³Sonny¶s Blues´ because as stated by Murray: ³Sonny watches the three sisters and one brother and carries a notebook with a green cover. said that living with Sonny was like living with a sound (332). ³it was not even a question that his (Sonny¶s) veins bore royal blood. jazz was what Sonny was very passionate about.´ Murray took note of the imagery used by Baldwin. recognizes that "his life contained so many others³ (McParland 132).As the story progresses. That statement was symbolic of how Sonny wanted his life to be ± surrounded by music. it made me get the impression that Sonny¶s look was a form of envy or a great appreciation of the woman¶s performance and Sonny sees himself having performances like those.´ and his brother was quite popular. his brother. Sonny¶s brother realized that in that place. At that point. In one part of the story. with jazz listeners.
But Tackach had a more in-depth analysis of the milk and scotch. ³the very cup of trembling´. Having identified the dimensions in Baldwin¶s work from the viewpoints of various critics. the transcendence of the human condition through art. He said that the cup of milk and scotch represented Sonny¶s redemption from sin and the term ³cup of trembling´ was taken from the book of Isaiah which was the cup of the Lord¶s fury given to Sinners which He took away after they sought forgiveness. To quote Murray. he has indeed drunk from the cup of trembling´ (Tackach 117). Sonny¶s music made his brother look back into strong memories in his life at that temporary moment.Sonny¶s music makes a connection with the audience. tears of joy because of love´ (Murray 357). Sonny has sinned. I came up with my own analysis of ³Sonny¶s Blues. described the Scotch-and-milk. that the world waited outside. Murray on the other hand. and I felt my own tears to begin to rise. sting and swirl of hard liquor´ were Sonny¶s blues (138). particularly a glass of scotch and milk set on Sonny¶s piano that was described as ³a cup of trembling. and that troubled stretched above us. and one of them is his brother who had tears run down his eyes as he heard Sonny play. Baldwin gave some symbolic imagery. the primary theme of . ³Like the sinners in the book of Isaiah. and its contents. was the grail and the goal of Sonny¶s quest. longer than the sky´ (341). Baldwin is talking about love and joy. Sonny has reached a point of breakthrough and he is giving his life back in music (McParland 132). And yet I was aware that this was only a moment. he said: ³The meaning of Sonny¶s Blues is not. Sonny¶s brother said: ³I saw my little girl again and felt Isabel¶s tears again. as hungry as a tiger. the heat. In the very last part of the story. to use the glib phrase.´ In my opinion.´ McParland said that imagery meant ³Sonny is the cup. It basically showed all ³ mixtures´ involved in Sonny¶s life. mother¶s milk and song of life.
as was the case of Sonny. my nieces and nephews. or a woman who may be brown. so quick. When Francois Bondy interviewed Baldwin. Baldwin did say that he has some form of calling and he says: ³probably the biggest reason has to do with relation with my brothers and sisters. but he wasn¶t crazy. Sonny¶s older brother narrated the harsh reality of life.´ This statement of Sonny¶s brother mirrors Baldwin¶s experiences as a child in the streets of Harlem. one of the questions he asked touched the issue of Baldwin being a ³Negro leader. That reality is the rampancy of drug abuse among the people in the projects and racial apartheid as implied by Baldwin¶s statement: ³There isn't such a thing as a Negro.the story revolves around Baldwin¶s emphasis of realism through the use some idealistic principles that struggle within its realm. or a man. Basing from the perspectives of the two main characters. One of it is how children grew up in a poor community. And he¶d always been a good boy. or green. the way kids can. and somehow we all survived it´ (Bondy 13). as well as he saw with other children as they growing up. . Sonny¶s brother said: ³I told myself that Sonny was wild. My brothers and sisters and I came up out of the streets. so quick. or white.´ Even though Baldwin disagreed about him being a leader because of his insights. Upon seeing Baldwin¶s response. but there is such a thing as a boy. it can be inferred that Sonny personified idealistic principles and his brother represented realism. Baldwin seemingly dismissed the idea of the existence of a ³Negro problem´ because to him it would only strengthen the label on their race as low class. especially in Harlem. he hadn¶t ever turned hard or evil or disrespectful. but when you say the µNegro problem¶« thousands of millions of human beings' lives which are being destroyed because you want to deal with an abstraction´ (Bondy 13). it can be said that ³Sonny¶s Blues´ indeed portrays an aspect of Baldwin¶s life and the reality he experienced. or whatever.
Just like the whole story itself. makes you feel in control (336). In order to cope. at last. racism exists as a part of our everyday reality. It can¶t be said who the story centers on. and he even experienced the unfortunate situation that people in Harlem suffered ± poverty. Sonny underwent soulsearching and his brother watched him closely.´ Being the idealist. does not come . The freedom of Sonny¶s brother comes through his recapturing and acceptance of the past using Sonny¶s blues. according to Sonny. When Sonny¶s brother finally heard Sonny¶s music. whereas the helpless father who watched his brother die seemed to be like Sonny¶s brother in the sense that the brother can¶t do anything with Sonny¶s decision in life (Byerman 369). but even if critics differ. but it was something that was out of his control. That reality is something that Sonny wanted to get away from. he still became powerless in the sense that he was enslaved by addiction. the father¶s pain in losing his brother is parallel with the failure of Sonny¶s brother in somehow trying to ³steer´ his brother in the ³right path. that he could help us be free if we would listen. they generally agree that the central conflict is resolved (Byerman 367). Sonny and his uncle who died had something in common which was passion for music. Sonny¶s freedom on the other hand. Sonny tried to escape powerlessness but in doing so. that he would never be free until we all did´ (341). Sonny dismissed his brother¶s idea of settling for a job he does not like in order to attain stability. It was never mentioned that Sonny did become stable like his brother wanted Sonny to be. but in a way.Still. Sonny¶s brother said: ³Freedom lurked around us and I understood. The thing that sustained Sonny amidst his predicament is his dream of creating music. he even resorted to the use of heroin which. Sonny was still victorious over his struggles because he got what he wanted. both he and Sonny became free. Sonny suffered in a world where things did not go how they should be. In the same way.
Baldwin did not give a clear picture if Sonny became stable or if he never became addicted to heroin again. not his ability to resolve the conflict. living through it all. but rather. Baldwin made sure that there was a balance between idealism and realism in the sense that there wasn¶t exactly a preference for one of them. My stand in Baldwin¶s work is that aside from it being a subtle account of his life. both are recognized as a part of life.´ I do agree with that statement of his because it really can be surmised that the story is not actually about overcoming the issues that are involved. conflicts with family members and so on. but the story¶s resolution does not come with the overcoming of their problems but rather having the presence of hope amidst the bitter reality. is another issue that was shown in the story to somehow portray Sonny¶s attempt to free himself from a reality that he does not want to live in. poverty. namely drug addiction. but rather the realization of his dream to pour out his life in his music. It all comes down to the brothers¶ continuous journey in life. their eventual redemption from their past gave them freedom and greater understanding of one another and themselves. The measure of Baldwin¶s success is his ability to keep this tension so well hidden. it showed social issues like racism. The story tackles an .from stopping the use of heroin (which he said might recur) or being stable in life. but rather. Byerman stated: ³What makes this tension dialectical is that the artifice of narration is necessary for the existence of the story and its overt message. and his suffering was something that his brother saw. Sonny then resorted to another coping mechanism which is focusing on his goal which was an art form called music which somehow sustains him and provides him contentment. he was the one being controlled by his addiction. Heroin gave him the illusion that he was indeed in control. but in reality. To somehow alleviate the condition of his life. Inappropriate coping methods used by Sonny. For both Sonny and his brother. Even if reality seems to always get the better of everything that happened in the story.
There can never really be a single perspective when looking at life ± it will always be a combination of realism and idealism. Bibliography . Yet. Sonny¶s idealistic principles of constantly ³trying to be on top´ of things that are actually happening led him to do bad things to himself like using drugs. that reality is complemented by the awareness of idealism that people always desire or at least.innate human behavior which is avoidance of stressors using coping mechanisms. it¶s that same idealism which motivated him to reach his goal and at the same time realize that the past is real and inescapable. talk about. Ironically. which ultimately results to a greater understanding of oneself and the realities of life in general. be it effective or not.
Martin¶s. John. Online Byerman. Online Baldwin. James. The Biblical Foundation of Sonny¶s Blues. MA: Bedford/St. .Schilb. James Baldwin¶s Sonny¶s Blues. Complicated and Simple. Robert. Interdisciplinary Humanities Fall 2006: 131-140. Making Literature Matter. Donald. 2009. 1964. Studies in Short Fiction 19. 10 May 2011. Online Murray. Academic Search Complete. Print. Web. Keith A. Online Tackach. Renascence Winter 2007: 109-118. Words and Music: Narrative Ambiguity in 'Sonny¶s Blues. and Bondy. EBSCO. McParland. Francois.4 (1982): 367. James Baldwin as Interviewed by Francois Bondy. To the Deep Water: James Baldwin¶s Sonny¶s Blues. Indiana University Press. and Clifford. Studies in short fiction Fall 1977: 353-357. James. Boston. John.
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