“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin Analysis

Subject: Literature
Pages: 2
Words: 501
Reading time:
2 min
Study level: College

“Sonny’s Blues” is a short story by James Baldwin wrote in 1957. This work talks about the memories of a black math teacher about his brother Sonny and his lifestyle. The story focuses on the most relevant topics of the 50s of the twentieth century: drug addiction, racism, and crime. Moreover, the story of the narrator and Sonny is imbued with a special atmosphere that makes readers fully immerse themselves in the story and drama unfolding in Harlem. A certain combination of darkness and light in the story allows James Baldwin to achieve this unique atmosphere.

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In order to fully appreciate what images the author portrays to determine the light and darkness of the story, it is required to first turn to the plot. The main character’s brother, the Sonny, is passionate about jazz, which upsets the narrator. He does not understand this genre of music at all, which is why he associates it only with a set of certain stereotypes (Baldwin 123). These prejudices are related to the connection of jazz with drugs and a debauched lifestyle. Thus, the narrator blames Sonny’s drug addiction specifically on jazz and his entire entourage. In contrast to the light, Baldwin demonstrates the darkness that accompanies the characters from page to page. The darkness represents the acute social problems that the main character and his brother are experiencing. Drug addiction and Sonny’s life in prison are vivid examples of how this image surrounds the whole story.

Thus, for the narrator, jazz represents the darkness that engulfs his brother. Meanwhile, for Sonny, jazz only brings light, as it is the most positive thing in his life. Moreover, the people around Sonny, his friends, and his family, all demonstrate a ray of light. At the same time, the same people represent darkness to the narrator. What is more, throughout the story, light appears in different forms, indicating certain emotions and feelings. Spotlight, moonlight, and sunlight illuminate the whole story literally and figuratively. Thus, at the end of the work itself, the narrator comes to Sonny’s jazz concert to confirm his established stereotypes. However, the blue light falling on his brother becomes a revelation to the main character. The spotlight aimed at Sonny illustrates the genuine happiness and enlightenment that jazz brings to his life.

In conclusion, the image of light and darkness creates a special atmosphere in Sonny’s story. With the help of light, readers can trace the happiness, enjoyment, and euphoria that jazz music brings to the lives of Sonny and his friends. Drugs, a rampant lifestyle, and prison represent only darkness for the character. These things drag him into the abyss of hopelessness and suffering. Moreover, the narrator in the music itself sees the darkness that has captured his brother. Light and darkness also appear literally throughout the story: spotlights, and moonlight, which help represent certain feelings. Baldwin skillfully builds the narrative of the entire story, using vivid images that create that very unique atmosphere of jazz and life in Harlem in the 50s.

Work Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny’s blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.