Sonny's Blues Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Though Baldwin published "Sonny's Blues" as part of his only story collection, Going to Meet the Man, in 1965, the story had appeared in a periodical several years before. While stories in periodicals are generally not reviewed, the magazine in which "Sonny's Blues" appeared does give some indication of Baldwin's place in the literary world at that time. "Sonny's Blues" led off the summer, 1957, issue of Partisan Review, which at the time was of America's leading journals of culture and politics. Baldwin's story was longer than most stories and was given the prestigious first position in the magazine, demonstrating the respect that the magazine's editors felt Baldwin deserved.

Baldwin had long been a figure in New York's intellectual community. He had moved to Greenwich Village from Harlem in 1944, where he met Richard Wright, then America's most important black writer. Baldwin wrote for the Nation and the New Leader while in the Village, before moving to Paris in 1948. During the 1940s and early 1950s, he received fellowships and grants from important cultural organizations and wrote for major American magazines while producing important works of drama, fiction, and nonfiction.

Baldwin's work was almost immediately lauded by the critics. His 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain announced the presence of a major American writer. Another book of the same time, Notes of a Native Son, was a collection of essays primarily concentrating on questions of race in America. Baldwin claimed Wright's mantle as the most important black writer in America. His next novel, however, went in a direction that critics were not expecting and reviews were negative. Giovanni's Room tells the story of a love affair between a white American student in Paris and an Italian bartender. Its frank depiction of homosexuality signaled Baldwin's acceptance of his own sexual orientation...

(The entire section is 787 words.)