What does "Sonny's Blues" imply about the relationship between life and art?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A key theme to Baldwin's literature is the way that art is shown to be able to either alleviate people's suffering or to save them from it altogether. An important part of this story is the way that Sonny is able to use blues and jazz music as a vital outlet for his feelings of despair, loneliness and agony. We can draw a useful link between music and the way that the two brothers gradually become closer and closer, as at first, the narrator does not understand his brother's fascination with jazz and blues music. However, at the end of the story, in a vital section of the plot, the narrator goes to a jazz club and hears his brother play. This triggers a kind of epiphany for him, as he understands the fascination that music exerts in Sonny's life, and how it can be used to help endure suffering. Note the narrator's reaction to hearing his brother play:

I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, and what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did. Yet, there was no battle in his face now, I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth.

Through his music, the narrator realises that Sonny is able to express his suffering and sorrow, but also to not allow it to control him. His music allows Sonny to express the hope of freedom. Thus we can see that in this excellent short story, art, in the form of jazz and blues music, is shown to be a force that allows characters to transcend their problems and woes.

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