In Baldwin's commentary in "Autobiographical Notes,” he comments on the relationship of art to experience: "One writes out of one thing only—one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art." Are there any passages or parts of the story "Sonny's Blues" that similarly express Baldwin's views on art and experience?

Passages of "Sonny's Blues" that similarly express James Baldwin's views on art and experience in "Autobiographical Notes" include the beginning, when the narrator reads about his brother, and the end, when the narrator describes his brother’s piano playing.

Expert Answers

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To connect James Baldwin’s thoughts on art and experience to “Sonny’s Blues,” think about the personal nature of Baldwin’s story. The narrative focuses on two brothers—Sonny and the nameless narrator. At the beginning, the narrator reads about the arrest of his brother in a newspaper. The article has a profound impact on the narrator. It makes his brother become real to him again. It’s as if the newspaper article forces the narrator to recognize that his troubled brother is, whether he likes it or not, a part of his life. To make sense of his brother, and to reclaim him as his own (and not just a stranger in a newspaper article), it’s possible to claim that the narrator spends the rest of the story trying to “recreate” the “disorder” of his brother’s life.

For a specific “Sonny’s Blues” passage that pertains to Baldwin’s essay, check out the penultimate paragraph in which the narrator describes Sonny’s piano playing. According to the narrator, Sonny’s music “filled the air with life, his life.” Here, the link between art and experience is palpable. When Sonny plays the piano—when he practices his art—he’s expressing his life and all of the experiences and people that play a role in his life. As the second-to-last paragraph indicates, in “Sonny’s Blues,” as in “Autobiographical Notes,” art is personal.

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