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“Sonny's Blues” Summary and Analysis

Categories: Sonny's Blues

James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is a story of a distant relationship between two brothers and how it is saved by the powerful message within music. The story begins with Sonny being arrested for heroin use. Sonny’s older brother is a school teacher and did not want to believe that the news was true, “I didn’t want to believe that I’d ever see my brother going down, coming to nothing, all that light in his face gone out, in the condition I’d already seen so many others”.

Sonny used his music and drugs to distance himself. Sonny dreams of becoming a musician but he finds himself trapped in a drug-filled environment, which all but destroys him. Sonny used drugs to temporarily overcome his pain and problems.

Sonny grew up in Harlem where he was exposed to negativity, drugs, alcohol, poverty, and crime. After the death of his parents, Sonny was forced to stay with strangers. Sonny found a way to focus on the negative energy in his life and use it to create his music.

Through his music, Sonny expressed his suffering. The image that the music portrays plays a role in the balance between the two brothers and expresses the contradiction of little understanding and the love they have for each other. James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” conveys a powerful message of salvation by embracing the hardships in life.

Sonny’s drug use got worse as time went on, but Sonny felt as if it improved his ability to perform.

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Sonny loved jazz as it made him feel like he had something to offer as well as a way of sharing his pain. The music gave him power over his problems and allowed him to overcome his battles through his own talent. His brother did not understand either part of Sonny’s life, the drugs, or the music.

The narrator struggles with his own emotions throughout the story. This is shown when the narrator speaks about his daughter, Grace, that died of Polio at the age of 2.

When speaking about Grace the narrator is emotionless. While the story was not focused on Grace, I think that had Grace been talked about a little more than she was, it may have shed a little more light on the narrator’s emotion and thought process.

When speaking about Sonny, the narrator is full of emotion. The disconnect with his brother, the passing of his father, the last conversation he has with his mother, and his feelings about his brother’s addiction and career choices, you as a reader an ability to read the narrator’s emotions and conclude that he is deeply troubled about all of these.

Similar feelings are relayed by Sonny when he learned of Grace’s passing. In his response letter sent from jail to the narrator, only a brief mention: “sorry to hear about little Gracie.” Sonny also does not express any real emotion, nor try to offer any sympathy. The lack of emotion over the passing of a child may be expressive of the time or the setting of the story, and dealing with a bigger issue.

Throughout the story, you can see the relationship between the brothers begin being rebuilt. After a deep conversation between the brothers, the narrator seems to accept the life that Sonny has built for himself. The story ends with the narrator listening to Sonny play in a night club. The relationship seems to be better than ever before, being salvaged by the narrator’s understanding and embracing of Sonny’s hardships.

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“Sonny's Blues” Summary and Analysis. (2020, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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