One of the most renowned authors after World War II in the field of American literature, Baldwin received many commendations for “Sonny’s Blues,” a short story that was published in the story collection “Going to Meet the Man.” Taking a theme of New York City in the early 1950s, the story is told by an unknown man who recounts his endeavors to reconcile with his long alienated brother Sonny, a jazz artist. In the short story, Baldwin portrayed many of his individual encounters to explore the matters that revolve around racial struggle, individual distinctiveness, and the intricacy of human incentives.
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In “Sonny’s Blues,” an old-fashioned black teacher recounts his efforts to understand the estranged outlook of his brother Sonny, a jobless jazz instrumentalist and an infrequent heroin user. On getting the news of Sonny’s arrest for possession of narcotics, the unidentified teacher decides not to take any action and, hence, ignores the issue. Later in the story, he gains an individual mindfulness of human weakness due to the sudden demise of his young daughter. Remembering how his mother compassionately consoled his father when the brother to his father was deliberately knocked down and murdered by a drunken driver who happened to be a white man, the storyteller acts on his mother’s appeal that he shows the same compassion to Sonny during bad times. Listening to a jazz solo by his brother Sonny at a public house in the village of Greenwich, the narrator is now led to a comprehension of universal misery and the attitudes of his brother.
In “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin brings a practical world, whereby suffering exemplifies man’s elementary state. The story’s main characters struggle in an irrational world lacking in intrinsic meaning. Additionally, they have to endure staying in a community that has accepted racism. Baldwin addresses these matters by using metaphors of anxiety and darkness, integrating images of captivity, and presenting depictions of life in modern Harlem. In “Sonny’s Blues,” music, especially of the jazz genre, is similarly employed as a governing metaphor to look at problems of tradition, culture, and racial affairs in America. Music as a communication pathway between individuals is also seen as an imperative theme in “Sonny’s Blues.” Other themes comprise of familial interactions, brotherly love, and the search for identity, which is common in Baldwin’s other stories. Racism is an intermittent theme in Baldwin’s pieces. In “Sonny’s Blues”, much of Sonny’s blues come from the state that African Americans have to put up with. Even though Baldwin only brings out one instance of racism, the whole story discloses a segregation made by the social order between whites and blacks. Regardless of being a mathematics teacher, Sonny’s brother has no choice but to carry on residing in Harlem and withstanding the violence and poverty ongoing in the locality. In this way, it is clear that his determinations to make something good out of himself are fruitless.
“Sonny’s Blues” is well thought-out as one of Baldwin’s most captivating and compelling works of short narrative, along with a skillful depiction of the considerable part that jazz music has had in shaping American culture and civilization at large and in the African-American society specifically. Numerous critics have compared “Sonny’s Blues” with Baldwin’s other longer stories, concentrating on the themes of redemption and suffering. A small number of critics have noted discrepancies in the tone of the story; while others have claimed that the way Baldwin handles the issues has much to do with politics and is too uncoordinated. Even so, “Sonny’s Blues” is seen as one of Baldwin’s best works, a concise and poignant probe into hereditary and racial associations in contemporary American society.