Sonny's blues

Publié le 23/05/2020

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« OBEIDAT Laila To what extent does “Sonny’s Blues” show elements, images of the city? Of the lives of its inhabitants? “Sonny’s Blues” is a short story written by the American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic James Baldwin.

In this novella, an unnamed narrator recounts events surrounding his younger brother Sonny, setting forth the nature of their relationship and the hardships they have both endured. Firstly, the fictional events of “Sonny’s Blues” take place in Harlem, New York.

While many movies, books, and other elements of the media give the city off as ideal, the go-to place for artists and ambitious young people, this short story pulls the reader into the reality of some neighborhoods of New York, highlighting the difficulty, the misery or even the darkness, dare I say, that reigns over them.

The lexical field of darkness spread out through the text drowns it in an atmosphere of sadness and torment. Then, by giving us two very different characters, Baldwin underlines the different types of unhappiness there could be in such a neighborhood, and the different ways used to cope.

For instance, the narrator’s life is seen, at first reading, as full, stable and in order: the man has a job as a teacher, a family, and financial stability.

Moreover, he teaches algebra, which is based on order, and the repetition of patterns; this branch of mathematics is analogous to the narrator’s situation.

However, the death of his youngest daughter Grace and his tumultuous relationship with his brother Sonny, are what make him unhappy in his seemingly perfect life.

On the other hand, Sonny releases his despair through his music, which his brother, acting as a paternal figure, refused to recognize as a proper career at first.

When Sonny is jailed for peddling and using heroin, his bother feels responsible for his bad choices and opens his mind to his love for music.

On that note, music is very present in the text, making it seem like Harlem is a place where one cannot avoid song, rhythm and melody.

From subtle metaphors to the lexical field of music and sound, the reader finds himself unconsciously led through a series of different symbols which came together in the end, showing how music, far from being the cause of misery, is what brings people together.

Also, what is subtle yet strangely obvious in the story are the various addresses to the fact that the smiles of the characters serve as masks, to hide the sadness and pain, as well as to show the child, the innocence that used to inhabit these bodies before all the suffering and the hardships of life in Harlem, making it, as the narrator repeatedly says, “repulsive” to look at. To conclude, this short story gives an account of a neighborhood where the inhabitants are full of rage and ravaged by torment, and it sets forth the fact that while they may be wearing a mask of serenity and happiness, their struggles have strongly impacted their lives.

Baldwin insists, however, on the way the various characters find to cope with their battles.. »


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