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What is a description of the tone, in other words, the authors feelings toward the...

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vlooney | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 6, 2013 at 3:29 PM via web

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What is a description of the tone, in other words, the authors feelings toward the central characters or the main event, in "Sonny's Blues"?

In "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, describe the author's feelings toward the brothers in the story.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 6, 2013 at 6:58 PM (Answer #1)

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“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin tells the story of a young man who becomes addicted to heroin both using and selling it.  He serves time in prison for dealing drugs.

The story’s point of view is first person with the unnamed brother of Sonny as the narrator. Using the brother as the narrator gives insight into their relationship and the struggles of the family trying to reunite.

Sonny has to move in with his brother and his family which leads to some tense moments between the brothers. The brothers want to become closer and after a few weeks of expressing their anger toward each other the tension is lessened.  The narrator describes Sonny as being like a caged animal.  He wants and needs to get out of Harlem. 

Yet, he is caught in the maze of drug addiction and the impact of prison on him.  Sonny’s one saving grace is his music, through which he can express all of his longing and frustration. Sonny’s music offers him a chance at beginning his life anew, but at the same time it could kill his spirit.

Obviously, the author cares deeply about the brothers.  Since the story belongs to Sonny, the reader finds he is mainly trying to figure out who he is---creativity, happiness, and music.  Sonny makes some rotten decisions for which the author cautions the reader.  He does not listen to the adults who give him advice; he wants to go to the military; and he chooses drugs over everything else in his life. He learns that the decisions that a person makes impact him for the rest of his life.

“When she was singing before,” said Sonny, abruptly, “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes---when it’s in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant. And---and sure.”

In an effort to make his brother understand what it feels to be high on drugs, Sonny uses the language that he knows best---music---to explain the feelings.

The narrator discovers that his brother is a talented musician. Sonny uses his music as an avenue to express his frustration and longing to find freedom for himself.  He gives himself up to his music and the audience can feel his music as he draws them into his rhythms.  This music scene may be the downfall of Sonny; however, this is the avenue to get him away from Harlem.

Baldwin delves into the relationship between the brothers.  The ugliness of the drug addiction creates a fracture in the family.  It is not until the brother experiences the beauty of Sonny’s music and realizes that Sonny waits on him to accept his music and feelings that the healing begins.   

“…Sonny began with the opening phrase of the song…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.”

The depth of his music forces Sonny to draw strength by expressing all of the suffering that he and his family have endured.  He passionately gives his music over to help in the healing of himself and his brother.

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vlooney | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 6, 2013 at 7:11 PM (Reply #1)

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Thank you so much! I have been reading and re-reading and all my thoughts seem to be running together. This helps to clerify things for me!

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