Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Baldwin emphasizes the theme of opposition between the chaotic world and the human need for community with a series of opposing images, especially darkness and light. The narrator repeatedly associates light with the desire to articulate or give form to the needs and passions that arise out of inner darkness. He also opposes light as an idea of order to darkness in the world, the chaos that adults endure, but of which they normally cannot speak to children.

The opposition of light and darkness is often paired with the opposition of inside and outside. Sonny’s problem as an artist is that inside himself he feels intensely the storm of human passion; to feel whole and free, he must bring this storm outside by gaining artistic control over it, by articulating it for some listener. Inside is also the location of the family, the place of order that is opposed to outside, the dark and predatory world.

These and other opposing images help to articulate Baldwin’s themes of opposition between the meaningless world and the meaning-creating community. The artist, by giving voice to the inner chaos of needs and passions, unites humankind in the face of the outer chaos of random and continuous suffering. The artist helps to create a circle of light in the midst of surrounding darkness.

Sonny's Blues Historical Context

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a new form of jazz music was being developed. The style, called "bebop," "bop," or...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

Sonny's Blues Literary Style

Narration and Point of View
"Sonny's Blues" chronicles the relationship between two brothers at various points in their lives....

(The entire section is 347 words.)

Sonny's Blues Literary Techniques

For most of the story, Baldwin stays within the conventions governing the genre of social realism. The narrative breaks dramatically,...

(The entire section is 221 words.)

Sonny's Blues Ideas for Group Discussions

For a short story that focuses on just one central character, "Sonny's Blues" invites a remarkably wide-ranging set of questions regarding...

(The entire section is 432 words.)

Sonny's Blues Social Concerns

As is the case with many of Baldwin's more than twenty works of fiction and non-fiction, the perceived need to escape from a threatening and...

(The entire section is 361 words.)

Sonny's Blues Compare and Contrast

1950s: Jazz innovators, such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and Bud Powell either live in...

(The entire section is 225 words.)

Sonny's Blues Topics for Further Study

Read about the development of bebop jazz music in the 1940s. Who were some of the important figures? How was bebop different from traditional...

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Sonny's Blues Literary Precedents

When asked in interviews about his formative influences and literary forebears, Baldwin has claimed a debt to many nineteenth and...

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Sonny's Blues Related Titles

As one story among eight in Going to Meet the Man, "Sonny's Blues" gains depth and coherence when read against the others in the...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Sonny's Blues What Do I Read Next?

Go Telll it on the Mountain, Baldwin's landmark novel about the condition of African Americans in the United States.


(The entire section is 104 words.)

Sonny's Blues Bibliography and Further Reading

Bigsby, C.W.E, Introduction to The Black American Writer, Vol. 1, Everett/Edwards, Inc., 1969.


(The entire section is 279 words.)

Sonny's Blues Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Fabré, Michel. “James Baldwin in Paris: Love and Self-Discovery.” In From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Hardy, Clarence E. James Baldwin’s God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2003.

Kinnamon, Keneth, comp. James Baldwin: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

Leeming, David. James Baldwin: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Miller, D. Quentin, ed. Re-viewing James Baldwin: Things Not Seen. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

O’Daniel, Therman B., ed. James Baldwin: A Critical Evaluation. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1981.

Porter, Horace A. Stealing the Fire: The Art and Protest of James Baldwin. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1989.

Standley, Fred L., and Nancy V. Burt, eds. Critical Essays on James Baldwin. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Sylvander, Carolyn Wedin. James Baldwin. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Tomlinson, Robert. “’Payin’ One’s Dues’: Expatriation as Personal Experience and Paradigm in the Works of James Baldwin.” African American Review 33 (Spring, 1999): 135-148.

Troupe, Quincy, ed. James Baldwin: The Legacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Weatherby, W. J. James Baldwin: Artist on Fire. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1989.