To what extent is darkness symbolic throughout "Sonny's Blues"?"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the concluding section of James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"in which the brother accompanies Sonny to the nightclub where Sonny is going to play, employment of light/dark imagery is significant and plays an integral part in the denouement.

As the brothers go the nightclub, it is on a "short, dark street, downtown.  Inside the lights are very dim, and an enormorous man "erupted out of all that amospheric lighting and put an arm around Sonny's shoulder." Most significantly, the brother is seated by himself "at a table in a dark corner" and sees other "heads in the darkness."  As he watches Sonny from his dark corner, the brother notices that Creole and Sonny are careful not to step into the small

circle of light too suddenly:  that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in flame.

As the musicians begin, the brother notices that the atmosphere begins to "change and tighten."  Out of the darkness, there is an evocation of something of "another order."  As Sonny finally becomes part of the "family" of musicians and they relate in the song "Am I Blue" how they have suffered and how they have been delighted, the brother from his dark corner becomes aware that this communication is "the only light we've got in all this darkness."

For the brother, there is a birth of truth from the darkness of misunderstanding into the light of communion with others.  When Sonny makes the blues his--"Now these are Sonny's blues"--the brothers says,

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.....And he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that passing through death, it can live forever.

Man cannot carry his burden alone; he must find an outlet. He must come out of the darkness of misunderstanding and be in communion with those he loves in order to give meaning to his life. This is Sonny's catharsis as he finds an outlet for his suffering by coming out of the darkness into "the circle of light."

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"Sonny's Blues" begins with the narrator's foreboding feelings regarding his brother's fate.  Darkness imagery abounds as the speaker tries to empathize with his brother, symbolic of his other, darker self.

On the subway, the narrator feels "trapped in the darkness that roared outside" (1694).  This triggers dark memories in him, and he flashes back to his childhood, when the silence and darkness used to settle in on Sundays. He says:

"The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about.  It's what they've come from.  It's what they endure.  The child knows that they won't talk any more because if he knows too much about what's happened to them, he'll know too much too soon, about what's going to happen to him" (Norton Introduction to Literature 55).

Later, the narrator teaches algebra to a class of little Sonnys. He sees them as full of potential, like his brother, but he knows they too will be threatened by the drugs and violence of the urban ghetto.  He describes them thusly:

"They were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone (Norton Introduction to Literature 48).

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