I am looking for critical essays on Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues."

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In James Baldwin's short story, "Sonny's Blues," we are introduced to two men: brothers. The narrator relates the story of his family's history, and his promise to his mother before her death that he would always take care of his younger brother, Sonny. 

It has always been difficult for the narrator in that he does not understand his brother's struggle to work steadily and to fight a drug addiction. Sonny himself feels like a lost soul. Music is the only thing that matters, and he tries to tell his brother this:

"Sometimes you'll do anything to play, even cut your mother's throat." He laughed and looked at me. "Or your brother's." Then he sobered. "Or your own."

It is not until the narrator is able to hear his brother play that he understands (paradoxically) how little he really understands—at least where his brother Sonny is concerned...that Sonny is on a mission not just for himself, but also for the welfare of others—through music:

...Sonny played. Every now and again one of them seemed to say, amen. Sonny's fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others... Then he began to make it his...it was no longer a lament...Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.

There are several essays with regard to "Sonny's Blues" here at eNotes. The first is entitled, "Racial Issues in 'Sonny's Blues.'" This theme is especially prevalent as we learn of the young men's father and his experiences with racism as a younger man.

A second essay is entitled "'Sonny's Blues': The Scapegoat Metaphor." This essay explores Sonny's place as a scapegoat in the story based on circumstances that speak of different groups in the story—in order to speak to the audience of Sonny's experiences and his struggle to survive.

The third essay is entitled "'Sonny's Blues': A Message in Music." In this particular piece, the author speaks directly to Sonny's music as mentioned in the title. Certainly, "blues" can evoke a sense of "sadness" or "melancholy," but it also refers to the saving grace Sonny finds in his music—although it seems that it must reflect Sonny's emotional state more than just a love of music. As Sonny and his brother listen to the boys making music in the street, the narrator makes note of one of the boys who is whistling—and the narrator hears Sonny in this young man and his "music:"

This last boy particularly suggests Sonny, the young man who makes himself heard and transcends the disenchantment, the darkness, with his song.

As you read these essays on Baldwin's themes (messages to the reader), you will find that they discuss very different aspects of Sonny, his brother and "Sonny's Blues."


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