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    The Theme of Suffering in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

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    In the 1965 publication of Going to Meet the Man, a collection of short literature, James Baldwin’s 1957 short story Sonny Blues was published. This story went on to become a widely respected piece due to the relatability and tragic story of drug-addicted musician, Sonny. This short brought the topic of drug addiction in the black community to all eyes around the world. It also helped audiences relate to a black musician struggling to survive in the inner cities of Harlem, New York, and the passionate artist’s way of coping with poverty and the hatred that was extremely relevant at the time. This piece has three focal points that bring that help the audience understand the relation between the story and the theme of suffering; the narrator’s viewpoint on how to understand his brother and what made him become the person that he was, the main character Sonny being the struggling artist that many people can relate to, and ultimately the use of heroin being the object that helped open the door to music and creativity in Sonny’s life and helping him express his suffering.

    To illustrate one of the focal points of this work, the narrator is a huge part of the story. Besides telling the story, the audience gets a peephole into how this character interacts with Sonny, how he deals with hardships, and how he copes with the hardships of his brother, as Sonny’s only support system. The narrator, who stays nameless, can relate with al audience types because he is a man simply trying to better himself and get out of the poisonous world he grew up in. A city where the streets are filled with drug addicts and poverty. Due to his aspiration of furthering his life, he enlists in the military and serves. When his service time is up, he becomes an algebra teacher, trying to teach kids who remind him of his brother and trying to keep them away from drugs and trouble. His journey of acceptance of his brother’s disease brings his own inner demons to light. He struggles with self-acceptance, the death of his daughter and how it brought him back to communicating with his brother, and the promise he made to his mother that he drifted away from. His relationship with his brother gives the reader further insight into the character the story surrounds, Sonny.

    Notably, Sonny is the most diverse, troubled, tragic character of the entire work. He did not particularly start out as such a simple character, but he in fact was not as diverse a character as he grew into throughout the story. Sonny’s relationship with Heroin proves to the audience that he takes the drug more than just for the hell of it. He takes it as a stimulant to help him feel the music, and to numb the parts of his life that he wished never existed. He calls the drug a “she”, which shows the audience that his personification of an inanimate object represented a love/hate relationship with heroin, just as he would have with a lover. Sonny constantly struggles with his addiction, and because of that it strains the relationship between him and his brother, who cares for him but only responds in anger when he doesn’t agree with what Sonny must say about life and how he handles situations and calamity. His disease also shows that he is very observant and smart, because of the way he describes what it feels like to him. The heedfulness shows that he had a great intelligent perception of his problem. In the story, when he plays a gig after he is released from prison, he stumbles through the first set, getting used to not have been practicing on his instrument and not playing it with the help of the heroin. As the second set starts, it proves to all the readers that he can, in fact, succeed without the help of drugs:

    Yet, watching Creole’s face as they neared the end of the first set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn’t heard. Then they finished, there was scattered applause, and then, without an instant’s warning, Creole started into something else, it was almost sardonic, it was Am I Blue? And, as though he commanded, Sonny began to play. Something began to happen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said Something awtul on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, commenting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful and calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano. It seemed that he couldn’t get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand-new pianos certainly were a gas.

    With regards to the relationship Sonny has with Heroin, this drug is a stupendous part of the story, and a main key between the relationship with Sonny and his brother. Without the use of heroin, this story would not have had that big of an effect. The use of drugs brings out the tragedy within all other aspects of this story: the deaths, the poverty, the strained relationships, and the music. This was an odd way that the brothers surprisingly bonded as well. If there was no use of drugs, the narrator would not have understood most of Sonny’s reckless behavior, if Sonny would have still ended up in the same situation. The public would also not see the development in either characters, because there would not be any type of conversation that dealt with drug addiction, which is also the main purpose of the story. Sonny would be just another character in any generic story about à man going to p and growing up poor, struggling to find an e through his music. The drug addiction added depth to his journey on becoming a better human and therefore making his recovery all the sweeter. His journey helps the audience relate to suffering and understanding why suffering is a universal theme everyone can understand.

    Given these points, Sonny’š Blues is a journey into the drug and music lover’s world, and can also have a relationship between black families, families that have dealt with death, people who have watched a loved one spiral down into the dark abyss of drug addiction, and families that try to improve their situations with hard work and observations. James Baldwin’s story will go down as one of the most influential pieces of literature in American history, and Sonny will always remain an unforgettable character. The theme of suffering was constantly used because it was heavily relatable to anyone because everyone to an extent feels some sort of pain during their lifetime.

    Works Cited

    Baldwin, James. Sonnys Blues. Harlem:1957. Print.

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    The Theme of Suffering in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin. (2023, Mar 03). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-theme-of-suffering-in-sonnys-blues-by-james-baldwin/

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