Sylvia-"The Lesson," Dee-"Everyday Use," & Sonny-"Sonny's Blues:" which protagonist most successfully overcomes the difficulties of "poverty?"Could you answer by characters regarding poverty?...

Sylvia-"The Lesson," Dee-"Everyday Use," & Sonny-"Sonny's Blues:" which protagonist most successfully overcomes the difficulties of "poverty?"

Could you answer by characters regarding poverty?

I've choosen my thesis relative to the poverty of dreams, and examples of poverty can have many different meanings—not only about money, but also a hunger for something or someone, etc.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your distinction regarding poverty is a very interesting and accurate one. One can have great wealth but be emotionally impoverished.

With regard to the primary characters mentioned in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Tony Cade Bambara's "The Lesson," and James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," the distinction of poverty speaks differently between them, but I believe it parallels each character's success in life because of the ability or inability to resist some aspect of "poverty."

"Everyday Use"...

...tells the story of a mother and her two daughters' conflicting ideas about their identities and ancestry.

Dee is impoverished in spirit. She takes no pleasure or pride in the strength of her ancestors, but sees them simply as people who were subjugated by the white race. By comparison, Maggie is very rich because she reveres the sacrifices and strengths shown by those who have come before her. Dee wants nothing else than to separate herself from the line of enslaved people who have made her quality of life possible, while Maggie embraces her heritage. The quilts that the sisters argue over are symbolic of that heritage: Dee wants them to adorn her fancy apartment—a "impersonal" relationship. Maggie, on the other hand, wants them for "everyday use," tangible items she can hold and find comfort from, in that they preserve the connection she had with her grandmother—one of the three generations of women who worked on the quilts. Dee believes she should have them because she appreciates that they are heirlooms. Dee has no dreams: in her mind, there is only financial poverty. She does not realize that she has fallen victim to spiritual poverty.

In studying the characters of Sylvia in "The Lesson," and Sonny in "Sonny's Blues," it is difficult (I believe) to know which character is more "richer" and/or suffers from the poverty of a life without dreams.

Sonny is a young man who has taken a much different path than his brother (who narrates the story). Sonny's brother is a teacher, husband and father, but Sonny has struggled with drugs, has been in jail, and has chosen to be a jazz musician—which offers no financial security or structured lifestyle. At the start of the story, Sonny's brother thinks that Sonny is a complete failure. As the story progresses, the narrator believes he is responsible for Sonny's difficulties—he hasn't been there for Sonny. However, by the end, the narrator learns that Sonny is not truly impoverished. Paradoxically, the heroin has helped Sonny to survive life's pain. The jazz fulfills Sonny, offering another healthier form of survival. With music, is seems that anything is possible for Sonny from this standpoint.

Sylvia has not had the chance to realize her potential. She is a youngster when the story takes place. She is held back by social poverty. However, as Miss Moore demonstrates to the group of children she has taken out on a "field trip," life is not fair. Some people have more than they need, while others never have enough. Like a typical kid, Sylvia doesn't want Miss Moore to get the idea that Sylvia cares about anything they have seen. However, when they have free time, Sylvia wants time to consider this new information— she embraces it and promises that no one will ever get over on her:

But ain't nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

With Sonny and Sylvia, I believe that while poverty surrounds them, they each have the potential to avoid emotional and spiritual poverty, though they may not have any money.