“Sonny’s Blues” is an emotional story written by an amazing author, James Baldwin, who has come to be one of my favorite writers. This particular piece talks about the troubles of African American freeing themselves from the mental bondages of their surroundings, the ghetto. The title is significant, and helped me to understand the underlining meaning of the story. The title can be divided into two main reasons, the first, “Sonny’s Blues, meaning the music he plays. Second is the reference to his life, his feelings, his style, and most importantly his way of life.
This story starts in despair, the main character, Sonny is a drug addict, who is holding on to life, but through music he finds hope. There are many parts of this story, such as Sonny being a recovering heroin addict, or Sonny and his love for music, or the fact that Sonny and his dad are just alike. It was difficult for me to understand the main reasons for this story after reading it once, because I automatically thought this was another one of those sad short stories about someone crying out for help. After reading the story again, and writing my final essay on it, it helped me to understand that Baldwin’s main reason is hope.
Although Sonny being a heroin addict was only a secondary point, it still played a very important role in the story. As I was reading “Sonny’s Blues” I would unintentionally relate parts of the story to things that happened in my life. For example, When Sonny is released from prison, the narrator (Sonny’s brother) says, “Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light. ”(Baldwin). The narrator is pointing out that his brother he never actually is out of jail.
While Sonny was in prison, he was trapped, and now that he is physically free, his brother questions whether he is free from the drug addiction and the feeling of sorrow. This moment in the story reminds me of when I was 14 years old; I went to the prison to meet my mom for her release after being incarcerated for almost 8 years because of drug addiction. There is nothing like questioning the mindset of someone you barely know. I was unsure of how healed my mother was. My mother had been absent from my life for 8 years, and although I wanted to know her, I couldn’t push myself to.
In many ways I feel a connection to both Sonny and the Narrator. I believe this story is so intriguing because, Sonny finding his release was through music. Baldwin says, “I grew up with music you know, much more than with any other language. In a way the music I grew up with saved my life. ” (Baldwin) . The music I grew up with saved my life. As an adolescent I joined a community marching band. Being in this marching band meant so much to me, I was able to express my feelings through playing the drums and being devoted to the instrument.
Many times I would go to the community center to play the drums on-off day practices. To me, playing the drum was like a drug, it allowed me to feel free. Baldwin gave an amazing example, in “Sonny’s Blues “ of how powerful music can be. In the story Sonny spotted a women and said “While I was downstairs before, on my way here, listening to that woman sing, it struck me all of a sudden how much suffering she must have had to go through-to sing like that. It’s repulsive to think you have to suffer that much” (Baldwin). I immediately thought to myself, that’s how I felt when I use to go and play in the marching band.
After reading that statement in “Sonny’s Blues”, I always listen to the words and the music that is being played on the radio. Sometimes I can sense the pain or the stress that an artist may be going through just by listening to how the track was executed. Personally I like to read stories that deal with someone overcoming amazing obstacles. It allows me to view things differently than the average reader. In addition the writer, James Baldwin is amazing. Him being an African American male and writing about something that most African American families could relate to was a phenomenal plus for me.
Writing this story about an African American family in the early 1960’s more than likely influenced many other families, going through the same problems to change. I was talking to my Sociology professor yesterday and he told me about a book he read, and how it gave him entirely differently view on life. When he told me that, I thought about Sonny’s Blues, this story made me view my life as African American Male, who grew up with a mom who was addicted to crack cocaine, and father who was non-existent, as a male who had all the potential in the world. The underlining main point in this story is hope.
There are many factors that challenge the life of these characters in this story, but for me, in much aspect this story was reality. The turning point of this story is when Sonny invites his brother to the nightclub in downtown Harlem. Although Sonny’s brother was hesitant he knew it was needed, if he ever desired to have a strong relationship with his brother. Sonny’s brother says “Yet it was clear that, for them, I was only Sonny’s brother. Here I was in Sonny’s world. Or rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood” (Baldwin).
For once the narrator was able to see that his brother was a changed person, and that he did honestly love music. My comparison to this moment would have to be the moment that I took my mom out to eat last Mothers day. During this time, we were able to sit down and get know each other. I approached the situation as a mother who has made mistakes and is now doing better things in life. Like Sonny’s brother, I was always hesitant of hanging out with my mom, for a reason I don’t understand myself. It was one of the best decisions I made in my life.
In most cases it’s all about the initial first step that someone makes. In Conclusion, “Sonny’s Blues” shows that there is hope in dark places, but its up to the person to not give up and follow what they believe in. There is no one that knows your self, better than yourself. I don’t believe this story is about a heroin addict or a story based merely on music; these are just secondary parts of the story. The ultimate meaning behind “Sonny’s Blues” is hope. The reason why this story was so successful is because the way Baldwin allows the reader to relate to the story.