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Sonny's Blues (an Insight)

Essay by   •  December 1, 2010  •  Essay  •  593 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,504 Views

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Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues", set in Harlem in 1957, was largely about the struggles of an ethnic minority and the stagnation they feel, but more so

how two brothers come to understand each other due to their struggles and from years of living their own, very different lives.

Baldwin's constant, detailed, reflections helped me immensely in understanding this story. I feel that they served as a constant reminder of the social context in which this story takes place. It helped to have those incessant reminders because I kept thinking it takes place in recent years, versus the 1950s, before the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. The biggest idea that I had to keep in mind was that the racism (ultimately leading to stagnation/oppression) presented in the context was "accepted" at this point in time. By "accepted" I mean that there were not yet any written laws in place to protect blacks against these acts, not that the actions were morally correct or acceptable.

Sonny's side of the story represented one perspective of the African American experience in this time period. He accepts his status & tries to live within the black culture and deal with it distress that goes along with it, just to keep his dignity. At first, he channels his afflictions through music. There eventually becomes a time in his life when can no longer deal with the pain or suffering and Sonny takes the well-beaten path of turning to heroin, throwing his opportunist attitude away.

The narrator, Sonny's brother, on the other hand, takes the path that many African Americans did during this time and tried assimilating. Although he has a respectable job as a teacher, he still feels institutionalized within his status of being a black man living in Harlem.

After living their opposite lives for several years, the narrator fulfills a promise to his mother and watches over his younger brother. Through many revelations, the two find ultimately find a common ground about where they come from, the pain and the suffering of being trapped inside their status no matter how they tried altering it.

The most important part of the story, to me, is in the end when the narrator watches Sonny play the piano at the bar. His brother orders a drink to be delivered at the bandstand, and once the barmaid brings him a drink and sets it on the piano, Sonny picks

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