In “Sonny’s Blues,” explain the impact of the first person point of view on the story.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The first person narrative impacts the story in a couple of ways.  One of the most significant ways is that it makes the individual narrative a universal one. The initial description that enables the reader to "glimpse into" the narrator's life is only possible because of the first person position:  "I read about it in the paper, on the subway, on my way to work.  I read it, and I couldn't believe it, and I read it again.  Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newspaper spelling out his name, spelling out the story."  This first person approach enables the reader to become engrossed in what transpires in the text from the earliest possible moment.

Since the entire focus of the story is the analysis of personal relationships and how they change over time, the introduction through first person narration allows the reader to become part of the narrative.  The emotional frame of reference that drives the story is enhanced through first person point of view. It impacts the reader because it invites the reader to enter into the portal of the speaker's mind and, at the same time, reflect on their own emotional reservoir of their own life.

The first person narrative impacts the story because it prevents a sense of didacticism to emerge.  In the first person point of view, one can understand the point of view of the narrator in terms of his pain and his potential for reconciliation.  The reflections, emotional confessions, and recollections are authentic because they come across in the first person narration.  Had Baldwin simply stated his beliefs, the reader might have been alienated from this experience.  It could have come across as more preachy than anything else. Yet, the tenderness of the memories and how they linger in one's mind is brought out in the first person narrative style of the story.  This is seen in the moments in which promises and verbal expressions of trust are illuminated:

"Oh, honey," she said, "there's a lot that you don't know. But you are going to find out." She stood up from the window and came over to me. "You got to hold on to your brother," she said, "and don't let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him. You going to be evil with him many a time. But don't you forget what I told you, you hear?"

The first person narrative enables these memories to resonate in the reader's mind.  They are powerful because it makes the theme of suffering become more real and tangible to the reader.  Since what it means to suffer and be estranged is so personalized, it increases the meaning with the reader.  At the same time, the first person frame of reference enables a resonance with the reader that avoids a sense of heavy- handedness. It simply comes across as life in the modern setting.

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