What could James Baldwin want to teach us about rage and fury in this story? What are the roots of it? Is it limited to the time and setting of the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rage and fury are the conduits for shared suffering, the roots of which stem from the pain and secret fears of the struggle to find fulfillment. This struggle is, perhaps, more manifest for Sonny and his brother who face the restrictions placed upon them by a divided society of their time. Each deals with his rage in a different manner, this "darkness growing" in their souls from their suffering. Sonny has first "play[ed] for his life" at the piano, then he has turned to heroin to forget the pain, while the narrator has attempted to assimilate into the mainstream of society, but the loss of his daughter Gracie has brought him to the level of fury against life that Sonny has suffered, thus, the narrator declares, "My trouble made his real"; consequently, the brother comes to truly understand Sonny, and to commiserate in his suffering.

The blues, then, become the metaphor of the brothers' sharing of their pain as this music embodies their own rage and fears, but gives them meaning through its imposing order:

But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.

This meaningful experience in the club where Sonny plays his blues marks both the brothers' re-entrances into their culture, as well as an understanding that is marked by their identity within a re-creation of their lives in terms of their membership in a community. Their unity is symbolized in the final scene of James Baldwin's powerful story as the narrator, who sits in the dark corner, feels empathy and communion with Sonny, a communion that is symbolized by the Scotch and milk set upon the piano. As Sonny sips from it and nods at his brother, the narrator perceives it as it "glowed and shook above my brother's head like the very cup of trembling," the symbol of the communion of Sonny's suffering and troubles--his "blues"--now shared by his brother.