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James Baldwin
James Baldwins short-story Sonnys Blues is a very imposing story which
highlights the African- American experience through its two main characters, the
unnamed narrator and his brother, Sonny. Although they both are niggers and they both
live in the same socio- historical context, their development is highly different.
To start with, I would like to point out the most striking difference in the
development of the two brothers. While the narrator is in a total merger with his
environment, being a teacher: I taught my classes algebra., the other character, his
brother, Sonny is presented even from the beginning as an outcast: He had been picked
up, the evening before, in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using
heroin. This aspect might be considered as a detail of major importance in the further
development of the story. The difference between the brothers is that they have different
tempers: on the one hand the narrator is the person assimilated to white society, while
Sonny refuses to give up his identity.
Developing from the above stated difference, problems of identity would be a
further interesting question to discuss. As I already mentioned it, the narrator has no
name, while his brother, Sonny has a name stated in the text. Given that the name
individualizes the character, shouldnt we all think about this strange factor: Why doesnt
the narrator have a name? Isnt his identity somehow diminished by the fact that he
assimilated the culture of white people? Mingled in the society he lives in, he loses his
value in a certain aspect, while Sonny, who indeed has a name, has never tried to
assimilate anything. He always tried to develop his individuality in an oppressive world
as he states: I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive
for?, trying to survive by means of music: Im going to be a musician. He mainly
channels his sufferings into music, playing jazz and blues, forms of art developed mainly
by African-American musicians. According to this we can say that tragedy and suffering
can be transformed into something as beautiful as music and the most proper example of
this is Sonny, who has an enormous capacity of transforming his tragedy into something
Sufferings of black people in America in Baldwins short story are not as
highlighted as for instance in Ralph Ellisons Battle Royal, although we can find one
harsh example of oppression, not to mention the fact that we can still sense it somewhere
in the depths of the text. The shrill paradigm of racism is the episode where we are
confronted with the horrible death of Sonnys uncle under the wheels of a car driven by
drunken white men. The idea of endless racism is present in Mamas thoughts: and the
car kept on a-going and it aint stopped till this day. The torments of racism become
endless by this statement and by the sufferings endured by our characters, who in a way
(like the narrator) or other (like Sonny) have to cope with their origins.