Compare/contrast Walker's "Everday Use" and Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" in terms of what Baldwin calls the "ambiguity and irony" of Negro life.
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In Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," and James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," the ambiguity in the Negro way of life is in the distorted concept of "freedom" that was allegedly guaranteed to all men with the Declaration of Independence, and specifically guaranteed to blacks in the Emancipation Proclamation. The promises made in these documents have not been realized by the black race. The blacks are seen as "separate but equal," which really translated at the time to "separate and not equal." This is ambiguous (confusing). Things that are equal are not separated. Dee in Alice Walker's story decides to adopt an identity straight from Africa (though she has never been there), while rejecting the life she was born into, "controlled by her oppressors." The truth is that her identity depends upon her choices, not the choices of others for her. The ambiguity in "Sonny's Blues" is that Sonny seems to be the man who has nothing: no job to speak of, a criminal background, and an inability to connect to his heritage—he feels victimized by society, even with all the promises made to the blacks in the past. How is a man supposed to rise above his situation when there is no trust or concern directed toward him? …when any attempts to rise above his circumstances are dashed?
The irony of "Everyday Use" is that Dee believes she will find herself by adopting traditional African styles of clothing, as well as a new African name. However, her sister who does not reject her heritage seems much more suited to her life than Dee who thinks the clothes and name will change who she is and where she has come from.
I couldn’t bear it any longer being named after the people who oppress me.
However, her sister Maggie has less going for her, but seems happier and more grounded. This is ironic in face of what Dee believes about living in America (which she has never seen) and being ruled by a white society that has little regard for blacks. No one else in this situation can help Dee—she must see the truth for herself. In "Sonny's Blues," the speaker (Sonny's brother) sees little value in his brother: he's just gotten out of jail and he has little to recommend him with his drug use, etc. Sonny's brother finally realizes (and it's ironic) that though Sonny does not have the things he has, and although he has not been able to achieve anything that society might applaud, Sonny's brother comes to see that Sonny does, after all, have a valuable gift. It is his music. And for all that Sonny suffers and has lost in life, he is able (ironically) to see music in a way that very few can. He can charm it like a charmer, taking something formless and transforming it into a "triumph" not only for himself, but for others.
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