What parts of "Sonny Blues" correspond to the plot stages of a traditionally told story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" there are flashbacks which provide information for the reader to understand the main conflicts between the narrator and Sonny as well as the conflicts within Sonny.  However, the story opens with the traditional exposition in which the main characters are introduced and the "discriminated occasion," or problem is presented:  Sonny's addition to heroin.

However, the development of Sonny's problems does not develop in traditional fashion as it is part of the flashbacks. Likewise, the rising action of the conflict for the narrator comes in the flashback as he recalls what his mother has said to him echoes from the conversation he has had with "the boy from the shadows who tells him, "It's going to be rough on old Sonny."

The climax, or point of highest emotional intensity, comes in the conversation that the narrator and Sonny have after Sonny returns with his green notebook and has a beer with his brother.  At this point Sonny reveals his feelings:

No, there's no way not to suffer,  but you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem--well, like you. Like you did somehting, all right, and now you're suffering for it.  You know?

It is not until the narrator accompanies Sonny to the jazz club, meets Creole, and sits in the dark, listening to Sonny, watching Creole lead Sonny to his self-expression that he realizes the meaning of Sonny's words.  Then, in an "apprehension," or epiphany of knowledge, the narrator is aware of why his mother urged him to look out for his brother; Sonny is like his father who felt too strongly the "menace" of their world and would drown it with heroin as his father drowned it with drink.  Fortunately, for Sonny, Creole leads him to understand that music can ease some of the angst; the blues carry the message.  In the blues, "Sonny's Blues," the narrator's brother can be in communion with the others of his kind.