Perspective and Plot Details in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

Categories: Sonny's Blues
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The relationship between Point of View and plot/characters in ‘Sonny’s Blues’ Authors often use point of view in their writing to emphasizes, show, or give extra meaning to a carefully crafted work. Not all authors use point of view in the same manner or to emphasize the same aspects or plot details. James Baldwin, author of the short story “Sonny’s Blues,” chooses to use first person narrative throughout the story, showing the plot through the eyes of Sonny’s brother, instead of Sonny himself, which creates a complicated relationship between the reader and Sonny, yet creates a fuller understanding than if the story had been told from another view.

From the narrator’s perspective, Sonny had a face that was “bright and open” and filled with “great gentleness and privacy;” a face that reminded him of the children he taught in his classes. As a younger man, he wanted to believe that this lightness about Sonny would keep him safe from the world outside.

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Similar to Sonny’s innocence, many times throughout the piece the narrator refers to Sonny’s intelligence. He tells Sonny’s childhood friend that he thought Sonny was too smart to get into the trouble that he did, and he told his mama not to worry because Sonny’s “got a good sense.” The narrator seemed to believe the combination of Sonny’s innocence and intelligence would keep him out of the dangerous parts of the world, and when he found out that Sonny had been arrested on a drug bust, he did not know how to handle that new information.

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He describes the knowledge and the emotions as “a great block of ice” which was within his stomach. Had Baldwin chosen to use another point of view, the interesting relationship between the two brothers would not have been made as clear to the reader because he or she would not have understood the extend to which the narrator felt for his brother when the news finally came. He was slightly numb to it because he was scared at what it would mean for his brother’s life later on. This shows his genuine concern and love for Sonny’s wellbeing.
Later in the story, the mother of the two boys tell the narrator a story about their father and his brother. Their father’s brother died after being hit by a drunk driver. The mother shares this story with the narrator in an attempt to help her sons stay together through the harsh trials of life; however, had the point of view of the story not come from Sonny’s older brother, the tale about the father and his brother would be unknown to the reader and so would the idea that even good people are made to suffer. The narrator begins the piece by thinking that Sonny must have turned “evil” or “crazy” and that is why he got caught up in drug addiction, but with the addition to the mother’s story, the narrator starts to understand that Sonny did not have to turn “hard” to experience suffering, and that he is still a good person.
The narrator begins a conversation with Sonny after the funeral by asking him what he would like to do with his life. After Sonny responds that he wants to be a musician, the narrator does not know how the situation should be handled, “so [he] made [his] frown a little deeper.” Being the older sibling, the narrator knows that he needs to look after his brother now that both of their parents are gone; however, he has never had to step into that role before and he finds it difficult to know what the right thing to do would be. Instead of simply attempting to understand why Sonny would like to play the piano, he becomes afraid that Sonny would become part of those called “good-time people,” which leads him to find himself “surprised” that he has begun “trembling.” Whenever the narrator finds himself facing the thought of Sonny getting into trouble or falling in with a bad crowd, he begins to “tremble” or feel a “block of ice” in his stomach, which all related to the idea of coldness. The narrator and Sonny argue about Sonny’s future because there is coldness between them due to a lack of understanding. Yet, this lack of understanding is not because the narrator does not want to understand, only because he is not in a place where he is able to understand, which is why it is important that the point of view is from Sonny’s older brother and not from Sonny himself because the idea that the narrator wants to understand would not come through as well, and then “Sonny’s Blues” would be a story about a man trying to overcome his suffering and addiction and less about a man longing to look after and understand his brother.
The narrator begins to understand why Sonny enjoys being a musician after they have a heart-to-heart conversation about suffering and after Sonny explained his past actions. Yet, it is only after hearing Sonny play the piano on stage that he realizes that music is how Sonny combats his suffering. He finally understands that to Sonny music is a way to “find new ways to make us listen,” because Sonny wants people to know about suffering and delight and all other human “triumphs” because “it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” Sonny always knew why he loved playing the piano; he understood the beauty and pain of it, but for most of the story the narrator did not understand, which is why it is important that Baldwin wrote the story from his point of view. It shows that not everything is black and white. It shows the concept of fear and love for one’s family. It shows how people can come to understand other’s pain and suffering and methods of coping.

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Perspective and Plot Details in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues. (2022, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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