"Sonny's Blues" begins in media res. What does Baldwin achieve by beginning the story as he does? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"I had kept it outside me for a long time," Baldwin's narrator says in the fourth paragraph of his story, "Sonny's Blues." The news of his brother Sonny's arrest resurrects what the narrator has tried to bury in his heart.  But, with this resurrection in media res there is also the re-emergence of the memory of his daughter, and of his childhood with Sonny, memories which play an integral part in the narrator's later understanding of the darkness of his brother's life.

With first person point of view, Baldwin's story achieves much more clarity to Sonny's condition by the narrator's providing his history as well as his brother's.  For, in the flashbacks the narrator recalls events that fuse the past, present, and future as parallels are drawn between Sonny and their father, between the boys of Harlem then and the boys of Harlem now.  Like a musical piece, these images mingle with others of darkness and of sound.  Sonny and his brother watch a street revival, and likewise feel a revival of brotherly love.  Clearly, this immersion in the middle allows both the past and the future to be brought together in Baldwin's story, thus enabling the narrator to better appreciate the trouble of Sonny's soul, his blues, and realize that what Sonny feels, he feels:  "My trouble made his real.....And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours."

At the end of the story, the narrator pulls in the reader, as well, with his singleness of theme, saying,

For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard.  There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.

The music has helped Sonny express himself and take control and avoid his suffering, just as the blues can help everyone be true--have the glow above their heads--to what they are.