“Sonny’s Blues”


The story of Sonny’s Blue is written in a singular narrative style. The story is about the narrator who narrates the story about the younger brother called Sonny who happens to have been caught in the act of using heroin. Despite the narrator being a teacher in one school in Harlem, he still finds it hard to get his mind away from Sonny. This is because, he is so much worried about all the young boys in class who fails to have a bright future, and therefore they mostly likely to indulge themselves in drugs, just as the case of Sonny. James Baldwin who happens to be the author of “Sonny’s Blues” is an African America who was born and grew up in a society full of prejudice and racism (Baldwin pg 245, 1977). The main reasons of Baldwin writing the story of Sonny’s Blues was outline or delineate the mentality of African-American regarding racism that had prevailed. Therefore this research paper will focus on the role of race influencing individual identity in Sonny’s Blues. The paper will also analyze on how the two brothers within the story have responded to a world environment that is full of racism and prejudices so as to conform the same as the whites.

There are various themes identified in “Sonny’s Blues” that are rich with meanings on different levels, however racism and prejudice is one major explored theme in the story. A careful analysis of this story tries to reveal that, the story is a story of misunderstanding or misapprehension inherent in racism (Baldwin pg 245, 1977). Racism in the story comes in when Sonny was arrested and identified to be a drug addict making people to conclude that he was a miscreant and an outcast to the society. This identity was in comparison to that of Sonny’s brother. In spite of Sonny as well as his brother who is the narrator are both known to be blacks, his brother happens to have adopted the lifestyle of the whites, hence he represents white race equation. After Sonny’s brother finished his high school, he then gets married and employed as a teacher and starts settling with his family, this was known to be a picture of the middle class Americans who seemed to be “regular guys”. The standards of his pursuits as well as aspirations are two major things which also reflected the common values Sonny’s brother predominated in that era.

Racism and Segregation

In Baldwin’s work, “Sonny’s Blues” racism and segregation are the recurrent themes in the story. In the story narrated by Sonny’s’ brother, much of Sonny’s blues comes as a result of the conditions the African Americans live in. However, Baldwin only gives one example of racism while the whole of the story tells us separation existing between the blacks and the whites. Despite the fact that Sonny’s brother is a teacher and stays in Harlem, he therefore had to cope with both the poverty as well as violence that existed in his neighborhood making his efforts of having a better lifestyle becoming unsuccessful. Because of their races, the narrator and his brother endure suffering. Regardless of the two being brothers, one pretends to be more of white than black revealing how different they are, and this is the main reason why Sonny’s brother is not able to understand his brother, the narrator (Baldwin pg 245, 1977). While Sonny feels more intensely throughout his life, his brother keeps on locking his feelings this signifies how the black in America continue facing problems of suffering as a result of racism. Suffering in this case goes hand in hand with racism because it is for the suffering that Sonny faces as a result of being among the black people living in America. Baldwin also is seen presenting one case of overt racism in his story. This is seen in a case where the narrators or Sonny’s uncle was driven by some groups of drunken whites under the wheel of the car. The black people did not react to the situation hence received the repercussions of the treatment to be omnipresent. The death of Sonny’s uncle torments the memory of Sonny’s father making him to hate the white people. Baldwin on the other hand, argues that, the kind of hatred Sonny’s’ father had over the whites tends to warps his soul. Conversely, Sonny’s mother also feels that she is not at peace given that she suffers a lot in Harlem as a result of harshness and from her knowledge; she concludes that, her younger son could be feeling the kind of suffering most.

The issue of racism also is shown where Sonny and his brother the narrator gets imprisoned at the same time , however both get freed in an opposite ways this is because, despite his brother being African American, he had inherited some whites in him making the two to be difference. When Sonny got imprisoned, he gets physically locked up in spite him being a young man and was able of doing what his brother could not do, where he flew out of Harlem and starting his own life. Conversely, the narrator on the other hand becomes physically free and from imprisonment, unlike his brother Sonny and many African young men in the community who gets addicted to drugs. Sonny was not happy with how the Africans were mistreated hence expressed his frustration as well as rages that sent him in imprisonment. While Sonny plays his piano, someone could notice that he plays it from the reason that one day he will be able to break the loose and becomes as free as any other men outside. The narrator however is seen to have been living his life that seems to have been trapped inside himself. He has no enough time in communicating to his brother Sonny, and he argues out that he fails to do that since he did not have enough time of bearing emotions that might come with it. Conversely, it becomes so ironical that, at the end of the story, the narrator temporarily becomes freed by his brother Sonny who’s his artists allows him to offer a glimpse into himself (Frances pg. 213, 1994).


From the story, it can be concluded that racism, segregation and suffering are the main recurrent themes analyzed in Baldwin’s work. The whole story of Sonny’s blue mostly comes as a result of suffering the African Americans are facing in America. Although, there is only one example of racism concerning the death of Sonny’s uncle that is brought out clearly from the entire story, while the rest of the story reveals how blacks and whites are separated from their society. In the story, the narrator and the brother Sonny pretends that they are not the same yet that are both Africans, this seems to look ironical. The reason is that, the narrator thinks that he is better than his brother because, he went to school, joined army and later was employed as a teacher of which in America this seems to be the life of the “normal guys”.

The narrator also have no time in understanding his brother mainly because has refuse to transform himself into being a white. Sonny becomes so much disappointed in his life, and therefore narrates to his friends how his life is full of frustrations even if he tries to make his life look good. He sees himself very much neglected from other human beings since all what he was doing was just opposite of what was required in the society which makes him to be imprisoned in jail. The story ends up in irony when the narrator whom at one point was not in position of helping his brother is helped back by his brother Sonny where he temporarily gets freed. Baldwin on the other hand presented the story of “Sonny’s Blues” to show how racism is wrong and how it affects the blacks living in America. However, there could be some Africans who live in America who sometimes fails to experience racism. For example, the narrator is African America who lives in America but sees life to be the same since he had transformed himself being a white and was comfortable in living with the Americans.

Works Cited

Daniel, Therman B.. James Baldwin, a critical evaluation. New York: Howard University Press, 1977. Print.

Berry, Mary Frances. Black resistance, white law: a history of constitutional racism in America. New York: A. Lane, Penguin Press, 1994. Print.

Weinberg, Meyer. Racism in contemporary America. London: Greenwood Press, 1996. Print.

Kinnamon, Keneth. James Baldwin: a collection of critical essays. London: Prentice-Hall, 1974. Print.

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