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James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is about the fractured relationship between brothers. At the beginning of the story Sonny is arrested during a drug bust. His older brother is torn because he somehow, he failed to keep his promise to his mother and let Sonny down. While Sonny is away in rehab or prison his older brother’s daughter dies. Sonny’s brother tries to reconnect with him. After Sonny is released from prison or rehab his brother tries to understand Sonny’s drug use. Sonny’s brother is concerned he may relapse and use heroin again. In the conversation prior to hearing Sonny play with the band, Sonny attempts to explain the suffering he experienced in life. Sonny explained his addiction to heroin to his brother as living in hell. Sonny uses music to navigate through the hardships of living in Harlem as Black man. He described it as “It is terrible and sometimes inside,” he said “that’s what’s the trouble. You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out that storm inside. You can’t talk it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So, you’ve got to listen. You got to find a way to listen.” (Baldwin, 1957/2015 p. 49) Sonny recognized the suffering of the woman singing on the street. He could understand her plight when others could not. He wanted his brother to understand his plight and how heroin was an escape from the harsh reality of life. Sonny was able to reconnect with his brother through the session at the club. Sonny’s brother was forced to listen to the suffering of his brother; they were able to overcome the distance between them. (Naughton, 2014)

Naughton, G. 2014 “The Whole Root is Somewhere in the Music”: Jazz, Soul, and Literary Influence in James Baldwin and Carly Phillips. Ariel: a review of international English literature Vol 44 No. 2-3 pages 113-1139

Baldwin, J. (2015) Sonny’s Blues. In A. Charters the story and its writer: An introduction to short fiction (Compact 9th ed.) Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s

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The narrator in this story of Sonny’s Blues reads the story that he is on his way to a high school, and we find out that man is an algebra teacher. During the day, as he teaches his classes, the story about Sonny sticks with him and creates a “great block of ice” in his stomach that won’t go away. At times the narrator feels like the ice is melting, but when he remembers “some specific thing Sonny had once done or said” the icy feeling comes back. So, even though we don’t know who Sonny is yet, or what’s happened to him, we can at least tell that he and the narrator have some history. The way James Baldwin writes this story, he tries to steer his readers away from believing that the story is true, but also comments that Sonny is scared. Since the story is about the types of drugs used in America’s inner city, the writer does a good job at telling the story and how in fact the characters are afraid of what might happen. The drug use, addiction and music that is described has a sense of realness. “The narrator always thought Sonny had so much potential and promise, and he didn’t want to think about the possibility of all of that going to waste. As he stands in front of his class, he realizes that any one of these high school boys might be shooting up heroin in the bathroom during break. He’s pretty sure Sonny was about their age the first time he used heroin.” This part pulled from an article digs in a little deeper as how the drug use was intense, even at school.

Baldwin, J. (2015). Sonny’s Blues


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