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Karyna Mitchell

Professor Wilson

February 24 2018

Finally Eye to Eye

James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues,” is a story of brother who do not see eye to eye

causing conflict between them. The basis of their arguments is the issue of racial discrimination

in an African-American society, and how they escaped. Each take a different view on life,

causing many issues when understanding their common ground. The brothers take different paths

in life to ease the pain of suffering and escape the trapping of their hometown Harlem. The

narrator chooses to leave his race behind him and adjust to a white society with a middle class

job. On the other hand, Sonny chooses to become involved with jazz music being inherent to his

race. Through a depiction of Sonny’s life from his brothers perspective, proving Sonny’s passion

for music, and showing the discrimination experienced within their struggles, Sonny is able to

self-accept with the approval of his brother.

Racism is referenced continuously through James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues.” The

narrator, a teacher, finds himself worried for his student. Many of which are African American,

facing discrimination in their everyday lives. The narrator ignored the idea of something

happening to Sonny and needing to take of him after the mother passed. It was not until the

mother described the moment their father continued to be haunted by. His drunk father and uncle

were on their way home, when the uncle needed to use the restroom, he gets behind a tree and

lets it out. Out of nowhere the father heard car motor, and runs down the hill. As he runs down

the hill he notices “a car..full of white men...all drunk” (77). The mother describes the scenario
proves the existence of racism and how it continues to be threatening, especially when described

as the white men “having fun”(77). Although there is opportunity (light) for African Americans

seems like there will be no escape from reality (darkness). Living in Harlem, an urban black life

city, the norm is the use and selling of alcohol and drugs. When people are constantly surrounded

by this abuse and it seeming normal, they are unaware of alternate routes in life resulting in

feeling trapped. The narrator states that they found “themselves encircled by disaster” (73). If

they were lucky they have “escaped the trap” but with escaping the trap they “always leave

something behind”...“as some animals amputate a leg, and leave it in the trap (73).” Both the

narrator and his brother Sonny were are to escape this trap of Harlem pulling them in. Sonny

escaped it by moving to a village, and later joining the navy. While the narrator found a typical

middle class job, and attempting to distance himself from his culture. The brothers were forced

to escape their hometown providing evidence of why it was important for the narrators students

to know how their lives may be affected by the “bitter conditions of ghetto existence...which

brutalize the young” (90). Society attempts to oppress African Americans causing the students

feeling trapped just as the brothers did. While oppression happened the brothers found that music

brought them together, and strengthened them to escape the reality of discrimination.

The title of the story proves the importance of music in the story “Sonny’s

Blues”specifically jazz music for Sonny. The role of music, Jazz specifically, not only defined

who the characters, but also Harlem culture as a whole. Jazz music played a huge role in Sonny’s

life due to the informal format which allowed full expression. Because of Sonny’s determination

and willing to struggle, his brother understands not only his brothers values of music, but also

self-worth and family relationships. Finally at the nightclub he approves of Sonny, titled as a
"real musician" (90). Instead of forcing Sonny to escape culture as well, he becomes involved

"in Sonny's world. Or, rather: his kingdom. Here it was not even a question that his veins bore

royal blood" (90). Sonny always wished to become a jazz musician, similar to Charlie Parker,

but his close-minded brother quickly disapproves him as a musician. After the disapproval and

attempt to be a musician without his family’s approval, he becomes overfilled with depression

resulting in him running away. Although the narrator underestimated his brother’s dream of

becoming a musician he finally understood the reasoning and called it "beautiful because it

wasn't hurried and it was no long a lament" (92).” The narrator feels having an understanding of

his brothers struggles and hardships he knows he is watching over Sonny just as he promised his

mother. The one way he knows to escape this sadness was heroin, eventually becoming an addict

as well as seller. Sonny’s does not relate to his favorite classical jazz artists music because they

never discuss drugs as a way to escape. Therefore, Sonny takes it upon himself to play Jazz not

only to overcome personal struggles, but to communicate this to his brother his experiences of

life. Music “soothes poison out” (85) it was Sonny’s only drug that is expressive of his hopes and


The story “Sonny’s Blues” has a deeper meaning of relationships, discrimination, and

understanding of struggling. By the end of the story of course not everything is resolved

completely. But the brothers take a huge step in connecting to one another. As well as having a

deepening understanding of their personal worlds and the world surrounding them. They attempt

to fill the holes they made within one another by accepting and appreciating each other. Sonny

admits that his addiction is something he will fight his whole life, yet at the end of the story he is

an applauded jazz artist. This quote is a replica of the theme in the story, "The world waited
outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky"(93).

Struggles are faced no matter where we are, but how we face the struggle is what determines us.

Works Cited
Murray, Donald C. "James Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues': Complicated and Simple." Studies in Short



Steven C., Tracy. "Sonny in the Dark: Jazzing the Blues Spirit and the Gospel Truth in James

Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”." James Baldwin Review, Vol 1, Iss 0 (2015), no. 0, 2015.

EBSCOhost, doi:10.7227/JBR.1.10.