Analysis of the novella “Sonny Blues”

In the short novella “Sonny Blues,” the writer uses the setting, the plot, characterization, tone, and the point of view to bring out the meaning of the story and themes depicted in it. The story is fiction based on the writer’s creativity and style. The writer presents the story as a simple one where we see drug abuse, poverty, the power of music, loss, family support, escaping the first and trying to start anew, and people struggling with self-identity.In this article, we will discuss how the writer uses different styles to bring out these themes.

Sonny Blues is a short story written by James Baldwin in the first person narrator style in the plot. The plot of the story is as follows. The narrator is a high school teacher but focuses the narration on his brother.The narrator, however, mentions the losses he and his family have been through. He seems determined to save his brother or, at the very least, be there for him despite how many times he has been pushed away. The narrator shows us how he is fond of his little brotherand does not know how to handle the situation.The whole story describes Sonny’s life and the narrator’s life. The two are seven years apart and had lost their parents earlier. The two brothers had a sour relationship after their mother’s death when the writer tried to take charge of his brother’s life. This brings out the theme of family support, loss, and we see how Sonny is having a hard time trying to find his true self.

The setting of the story is the one that is most interesting of all styles. The writer uses his primary setting in Harlem. Comparing actual history with the narrative, after the Second World War, many black Americans settled there in an attempt to start over and live anew. Only black people lived there, and the place was described as filled with poverty (Voshell, 2012). However, the people there enjoyed their freedom and hoped for the better. There was darkness surrounding the place, which resulted in loss and suffering to those who dwelled there. All these factors are usedin the themes brought out in the story. The narrator’s daughter dies of polio. His brother is addicted to heroin and is holding on by a thread of hope that he survives it. Both the narrator and Sonny served in the Second World War but had to find ways to sustain themselves afterward, and there is no mentionof any recognition by the government. The setting, therefore, plays a significant role in bringing out the themes used by the writer.

Another style used to bring out the major themes in the story is characterization. The narrator uses his brother, Sonny, as the main character. The writer has had to endure a lot of losses in his life. The thought of him losing his brother is too painful to bear. He uses him to bring out the theme of family support.He is adamant about supporting his brother’s dream of leaving Harlem, and he is also not happy with his brother’s dream of being a jazz musician. However, later on, he gets emotional when he watches his brother play the piano at a concert. He describes how good it felt watching him play to a point he almost cried when he remembered all the pain he has been through (Stuart, 1997). He also describes the stage as his brother’s world since everyone seemed to know Sonny.Isabel and Sonny’s mother brings out the family as a source of comfort by supporting their families and spouses to bear the pain of losing someone. All the other supporting characters show how family and friends make who you are. Also, Sonny’s father describes that the loss of a loved one changes one’s life completely, which brings out pain and suffering after the loss of a loved one.

The tone of the narrator in the story is sympathetic but honest about the ordeals of his brother Sonny. Baldwin seems to love his brother such that he makes him the main character in the narration. He looks to defend Sonny’s life choices and explains why he did what he did. One example is where he explains why his brother was so adamantabout leaving town after his mother’s funeral instead of moving in with Isabel and her family. He was addicted to drugs and wanted to run away from them by joining the army. Thus, the writer does not leave his brother as a stubborn drug addict who was hopeless (Claborn, 2010). Instead, he tries to understand his brother’s reasons as to why he did what he did. He also does not abandon his brother; he sticks by his side and is willing to help him through it. Also, to put more focus on his brother, he minimizes the other characters’ appearances and does not even give his role a name. The tone brings out the theme of family support, drug abuse, loss, and struggle with self-identity.

The other style that helps bring out the themes is the point of view of the narrator.The story is written from the first persona point of view. Baldwin gives the details from his point of view as the unnamed narrator (Shmoop University, 2020). He shifts the attention to his brother, Sonny. The story seems simple, but it is more complicated than it looks. The writer does not only describe his brother’s struggles when battling heroin butalso how all these issues affect the writer. He describes his relations with his brother, parents, and his wife and children.The writer blocks other characters’ thoughts on these matters and limits the story to his perspective.In this case, therefore, we only know and hear what the writer wants us to understand. In other words, the story comes out from a biased perspective. We are limited to what he feels towards his family, his loss, his views on his brother being addicted to drugs, and his hope that he will get better.

Connecting all these elements,one can understand everything using the writer’s eyes. The story is a reflection of Sonny’s past, trying to collect the pieces of what went wrong. After the narrator watches Sonny play, he finally understands his brother, and the two find peace as brothers (Silber, 2019).It is here we know the importance of music to Sonny and his friends. All stylesput together in this conclusion, where Sonny is living the dream, and his brother is happy. The themes used also bring out a clear plot where we see the conflict, climax, suspense, and conclusion of the narration.

References

Stuart, A. (1997). The Harlem Renaissance in the twenties produced a wealth of black talent. But what was it’s. New Statesman, 126(4340), 40-41.

Claborn, J. (2010). Who Set are You Feelin’? Harlem, Communal Affect, and the Great Migration Narrative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” English Language Notes, 48(1), 89-100.

Shmoop University. (2020). Sonny’s blues analysis. Study Guides, Online Courses, & Classroom Solutions | Shmoop. https://www.shmoop.com/study-guides/literature/sonnys-blues/analysis

Silber, J. (2019). “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. Why I Like This Story, 309-315. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781787445352.044

Voshell, E. (2012). The Importance of Setting in “Sonny’s Blues.” Short Story 253. http://shortstory253.blogspot.com/2012/04/importance-of-setting-in-sonnys-blues.html

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