Both Jane of Jane Eyre and Sonny of "Sonny's Blues" feel confined, eager to escape. Explore some of the similarities between these characters in terms of confinement. Despite these similarities, why do the stories end so differently?
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Young Jane Eyre and the younger Sonny share similarities:
- Both are subjected to hostile environments
Through no fault of his family, Sonny and his brother grow up in the "killing fields" of Harlem where hostilities prevail with crime and drugs ever-present. Similarly, through no fault of her tragic family, Jane is left an orphan and must live in the hostile home of an aunt and a deceased uncle. Jane's aunt favors her spoiled and cruel children and mistreats Jane, even locking her into the "red room" where her uncle has died. Then, she sends Jane to Longwood, a boarding school where the headmaster is a sadistic pseudo-religious zealot.
- Both feel restricted in their environments
As a resident of Harlem in the 1950s, Sonny is marginalized. He has little hope of attaining a well-paying job or of attaining any acclaim as a musician outside his limited world. Feeling the pain of the lack of opportunity in such a negative environment, he falls victim to the destructive influences of Harlem: drugs, specifically heroine, and unsavory companions as escape. All that Sonny knows is what his brother describes as 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.
Jane Eyre rebels against the hypocritical environment in which she lives. Fond of Helen Burns, Jane marvels at Helen's saintly passivity in the face of cruelty; Jane loves Helen as the faithful friend that she is, but she refuses to accept the mistreatment dealt to her:
...for the first time it recoiled baffled [from the teachings about heaven and hell]....and it shuddered at the thought of tottering, and plunging amid that chaos.
Jane desires "liberty"; she narrates "...for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing.
- Both feel misunderstood
Sonny's brother tries to honor his promise to their mother to look out for Sonny, but when Sonny's old friend talks to the brother, he admits that he "didn't want to know how it felt to Sonny and him in the past."
It filled everything, the people, the houses, the music, the dark, quicksilver barmaid, with menace; and this menace was their reality.
It is not until Sonny's brother loses his daughter that he begins to understand the darkness inside Sonny, the "menace" that so pains him.
So, too, does Jane feel that no one can know what secrets lie in her heart. When she is hired as a governess and meets Mr. Rochester she feels some communion with him in their passions and individualism, but each yet has some inner conflicts with their "unresolved identities" as does Sonny. Later, with her cousin St. John Rivers, Jane again is not valued for her true merits and is gravely misunderstood. Therefore, she rejects his offer of marriage that is merely to advance his personal causes.
- Both Jane and Sonny resolve their identities as they are united with people that they love
After Rochester's terrible accident, although physically blinded, he sees more clearly that he truly loves and needs Jane, and he admits his love, asking her to marry him. Jane, in turn, responds, "To be your wife is, for me, to be as happy as I can be on earth."
For Sonny, the music is what bonds him to his estranged brother. Sonny's brother goes to a club and listens to Sonny play the blues. "Something opens within" for him, and he understands that "the music ris[es] from the void and impos[es] order on it as it hits the air." Sonny's brother, at last understands. He notes,
What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason.
Despite these similarities, the stories end differently because there are societal differences in the Victorian England of Jane Eyre and "Sonny's Blues." The Harlem of the setting is yet there. But, the societal circumstances have changed for Rochester and Jane.
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