What suggestions does the story make about the relationship of art to life or of art to suffering?James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" certainly illustrates the fact that the artistic expression of an individual is an expression of the human condition.  In addition, it is through this artistic expression that human emotions are both expressed and relieved; for the arts, indeed, are what feed the soul.

Since under the influence of heroin he felt that he was "in control," Sonny used this drug to seek refuge from the angst of living in the "vivid killing streets" of Harlem and the darkness and chaos of his environment. However, after his arrest he has to find release from his suffering in his music.  When it is "repulsive" to Sonny that the woman holding a revival on the street has had to "suffer so much to sing that well," his brother empathizes by stating that everyone must suffer, for it is the human condition.

With this understanding growing between the brothers, Sonny invites his sibling to the club where he will play the piano.  There Creole, who acts as a surrogate brother, evokes in Sonny the triumph over his suffering through "Sonny's blues."  Thus, Sonny's music helps him to "deal with the void" and "release the storm within him."  As he sits in a dark corner, the brother reaches an epiphany about the relationship of Sonny's music to his suffering:

What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason....[the tale of how he suffers] is...never new, [but] it's the only light we've got in all this darkness. 

For Sonny, music is his expression of and triumph over suffering; it is his "cup of trembling" that brings him surcease from the angst of the darkness of life.

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Sonny's Blues

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