Literary Analysis: What are the themes & Imagery in Sonny's Blues and what do they mean?

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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"Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin, is the story of a talented young black musician who is recovering from drug addiction and a stint in jail, and his brother, who is a school-teacher.

There are numerous themes in this relatively short piece.  Some of them are:

a) What it was like to grow up in Harlem:

These boys...were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low celing of their actual possibilities.

b) The different ways that people attempt to escape the ghetto: Sonny tries music and drugs, his brother tries to go "straight" and becomes a middle-class school teacher.

c) The complex relationship between two brothers.

d) The way that a musician expresses his feeling through music:

The man who creates the music is hearing somehitng else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air.

To me, the most powerful "image" is in the story's final two pages, in which the author describes Sonny's first gig after spending a trouble-filled year away from music.  This passage is clearly one of the best, maybe the best, description in literature of a musician using music to express his feelings by telling the story of his life.

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