What is the climax, falling action and resolution of "Sonny's Blues"?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Baldwin's poignant short story, composed in motif form, the main climax occurs after the brothers witness the singing of street preachers, and their relationship is repaired. For the brother, this is a resolution. Later, he joins Sonny at a nightclub where he plays the piano, and the brother witnesses Sonny's resolution to his inner conflicts as the music provides him solace.

It is not a customary plot line that Baldwin follows in "Sonny's Blues"; instead, drawing from his musical background as a composer for Ray Charles and others, Baldwin spins a narrative composed much as a blues song is with a recurring melody. He uses a literary motif that is repeated throughout the narrative. It is in the last of these recurring motifs that the climax occurs for Sonny while the brother's conflict is resolved after witnessing the street revival.

As with a repeated melody in music, the conflict between the brothers reaches a climactic moment after Sonny leaves and the brother finds him in Greenwich Village. He tries to ameliorate their relationship, but Sonny pushes him out, telling his brother to just consider him as dead. As he walks down the steps, the brother whistles aloud the melody to the lyrics, "You going to need me, baby, one of these cold, rainy days." 

Later, after the brother reads of Sonny's arrest, he has Sonny come to Harlem and stay with him because his "trouble" of losing his daughter Grace now has made Sonny's trouble "real" to him.

Further, on a Saturday nearly two weeks after Sonny has been staying at his house, the brother sees Sonny across the street, listening to a street revival and the music melody/motif enters the narrative again. As he watches and listens, the narrator perceives in a climactic moment:

...the listening faces underwent a change, the eyes focusing on something within, the music seemed to soothe a poison out of them, and time seemed...to fall away from the sullen, belligerent, battered faces, as though they were fleeing back to their first condition, while dreaming of their last.

Soon, Sonny returns to the apartment of his brother. This time they talk reasonably to each other, and their relationship is repaired. Sonny invites his brother to join him as he "sit[s] in with some fellows in a joint in the Village."

That evening as Sonny sits at the piano and Creole reminds the audience that he and his fellow musicians are playing the blues,

He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to bet the air as Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about.

While these musicians play, in Sonny's climactic moment, the narrator realizes that the blues become "Sonny's blues" as the music becomes solace for his suffering. This is the falling action.

He made the little black man on the drums know it, and the bright, brown man on the horn....Then they all gathered around Sonny and Sonny played....Sonny's fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others...

Sonny again feels that he is part of mankind; his brother joins him in this feeling. This is the resolution.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The climax of the short story "Sonny's Blues" is when the brothers wittiness a scene at a revival meeting. The narrator witnesses it from an upstairs window while Sonny witnesses it from the street. The women in the incident address each other as "Sister."

A literary climax is the moment at which the end result of the conflict is predictable, events turn at that point and lead to the resolution. It may be a moment of great emotion or action but it may also be a moment of quiet epiphany and revelation, as is the case in "Sonny's Blues."

After the revival scene the falling action starts when the brothers confide in each other and the narrator tries for the first time to see Sonny's point of view. They go to the club together and Sonny plays, taking control of the music and making something worthwhile of himself out of it. The narrator, in the audience listening and watching, understands that Sonny has held onto and built up his personal identity through the blues, and he realizes there is a universal truth to the worthwhile nature of blues. This is the resolution.