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Compare and Contrast

James Baldwins Sonnys Blues & James Joyces Eveline


5/6/2009

If we all take some time to look back on our lives we all see things we wish we would have done differently, promises we wish we would have kept, and promises that we wish we would have broke or never made. The two stories Eveline and Sonnys Blues are the tales of two ordinary people; two people that made a promise to their mothers and struggle with their commitment to keep them. The stories are of two people whose lives were completely different, yet strangely similar in many ways. Similarities are found in the characters that both protagonists were asked to care for. Eveline had promised to care of both her brother and her father; it was ultimately her worry for her fathers well being that held her back. The narrator in Sonnys Blues promised to care for his brother Sonny. Sonny and Evelines father were both in need of someone to care for them and both had abusive personalities. However, the objects of their abuse differed. Sonny was abusing heroin, while Evelines father was abusing alcohol and his children. Both Sonny and Evelines farther were similar in the sense that for sometime both lived without a sense of guilt for their actions and

were oblivious to how their actions may be affecting the people who care for them. Evelines father did not like Frank, the man she was dating. He did not take a chance to get to know him, however forbid them to see each other. This ultimately put a strain on their relationship and was a factor that was pushing Eveline to board the ship. He used money as a way to further his abuse and control over her. He would give her a hard time when she asked him for money to help pay for things, even though she gave every penny she had to his cause. Eveline also briefly mentions having suffered through her fathers verbal abuse, although not to the extent of her brothers. At no time in the short story does he seem to show remorse or guilt over how he treated his daughter. However, she still decides to stay. This could be because of the guilt she was feeling or a direct result of the abuse and control he had over her. As evidence of Sonnys lack of guilt is a quote from the story. Sonny states, I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for? (221) This is a very telling line in the story. Sonny lacks the insight to see how his actions are affecting others. As he speaks of his desire to live a life that is lived for his want and enjoyment, his brother is left with the guilt and worry over his promise to keep his brother on the right path. Sonny, at this point, was not

deliberately trying to make his brother feel guilty. Nonetheless, these thoughts of self fulfillment are what, one could argue, led him down a path of drug abuse and crime. (Baldwin) Unlike their family members, both main characters are haunted by an overwhelmingly strong sense of guilt. Eveline felt guilty because she made a decision to leave her family, after having promised her mother she would always care for them. She went as far as packing and making it to the boarding station but could not even board the boat for a bigger and better life for herself. Keeping her word to her mother, and the guilt she would feel if she didnt, ultimately held her back. On the contrary, the narrator of Sonnys Blues did allow himself to embark on a new and better life. He, for some time, turned a blind eye to his commitment and went on with his life. Overtime and through life changing events, he began to feel guilty for not having done enough in caring for his brother and reached out to help in and to make good on his promise. He put it best when he said, you know people cant always do what they want to do. (221) It shows that although he wanted to live his own life, guilt drew him in to doing what he felt like he had to. The differences in these two stories lay in their similarities. Two different people on two different paths come to the same result. This

result brought each to a feeling of guilt from their past and for their future.

Works Cited
Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. 210-231. Joyce, James. "Eveline." Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. 194-197.