James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 2
Words: 554
Reading time:
2 min
Study level: College


James Baldwin is an American author well-known for his activism, poetry, and playwrights. Baldwin’s perseverance in the face of socioeconomic, gender, and primarily racial persecution in the West earned him many accolades in the arts. James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues” is about Sonny, who lives in Harlem in the 1950s. The plot revolves around Sonny, a gifted musician who has had a complicated past and has been locked in a drug addiction that has landed him in jail despite attempting to achieve success in life. “Sonny’s Blues” attempts to demonstrate the consequences of racial discrimination through the life of Sonny.


Baldwin successfully deploys various elements of writing, including the indirect narration of the family’s status and housing segregation, to argue about race and racism in 1950s Harlem.

The author’s indirect technique of highlighting the negative consequences of race and racial prejudice is one of the key elements that makes Sonny’s Blues an engaging story.

The era is thought to have been characterized by drugs, racial tension, and poverty, with Harlem being primarily populated by African-Americans. In a conversation, he asserts, “look. I haven’t seen Sonny for over a year, I’m not sure I’m going to do anything. Anyway, what the hell can I do?” (Baldwin 20).

The author presents each generation of the household by detailing the events that lead to each situation. The narrator reminds Sonny of the biased settings and warns him against his lifestyle. On the contrary, Sonny did not believe society was racist. Eventually, when Sonny is imprisoned, he discovers that his brother was correct. Sonny’s drug issue and incarceration reflect the realities of most young adults in this minority group.

Harlem’s unsanitary and underdeveloped presentation is another indication of racism. Baldwin mentions Harlem’s collapsing housing developments, analogous to “rocks in the center of the hot sea” (25).

The housing projects represent the racial effect on a disadvantaged society due to national and municipal segregationist housing methods. The author points out that a few days after the houses were built, they “seemed uninhabitably new” (Baldwin 25).

The narrator’s worry may be attributed to Sonny and other young black males trapped in a system that segregates them constantly and cruelly. In essence, it was challenging for the narrator to persuade him to give up his nightly lifestyle, which he appeared to have become accustomed to.

Sonny was convinced that the world had changed, but his kin disagreed. Therefore, this adds to the narrator’s sorrow as he tries to deal with his issues, such as losing his child in a racially biased society. Baldwin uses the characters’ life experiences to show the racial segregations that African Americans encountered. Generally, racism is responsible for a lot of the sorrow and darkness in the novel.


Baldwin successfully employs narration of the family’s status and housing segregation to make a statement about race and racism in 1950s Harlem. Harlem was not conducive to raising children due to the availability of narcotics and the lifestyle that most people had become accustomed to. The narrator’s description of the uninhabitable states of the houses exemplifies the unhealthful setting that they were exposed to due to alienation. Even though the streets of Harlem have changed with the construction of project houses all around, racism continued to have a severe impact on the lives of its people.

Work Cited

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rife, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. 17-48.