Which parts of "Sonny's Blues" correspond to traditional plot stages?

Quick answer:

The narrator is a reporter. He is an orphan and lives with his brother, Sonny. They have a sister, named Willa and are from North Carolina. He was raised by his grandmother and he knew she was not always the best parent because she would beat them for no reason most of the time when they were children, which he does not forgive her for. He also doesn't forgive his mother for leaving them at such a young age. Sonny was born in Harlem, New York to Big Maureen as she calls her mom and Son's father who is never mentioned throughout the story.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The traditional exposition would consist of the narrator's childhood and his attempts to take care of Sonny. The reader would walk through the difficult and loving moments of the narrator's life—his struggles with Sonny's sobriety, his attempts to be a parent when he's still a child himself, his desire to make things better for his brother. They would learn about his family, the loss of his child, and his struggles with being separated from Sonny.

The rising action would consist of the narrator remembering his mother's words about how important he and Sonny are to each other. It would show the narrator and Sonny reuniting, traveling around the city together, and the conversation between them about his drug use and the reasons for it.

The climax would be when the narrator walks into the club to see Sonny playing his music and finally begins to understand his brother. The expression of pain, sorrow, and joy in the music doesn't only help him put Sonny in context but also helps him remember the important things from his life—like his daughter, for example. It touches him and transforms him.

The falling action is when the tension is lifted as the song ends. The crowd cheers and Sonny looks over and nods at his brother.

The resolution of the story occurs as Sonny begins to play again as the narrator watches, now more at peace than he was before. He looks at the cup of scotch and milk on Sonny's piano and thinks that it looks like a cup of trembling over his head.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The exposition, being the introduction of the story, takes place in the beginning paragraphs as the narrator is on a train, reading a newspaper. This is where the setting, Harlem, is established and we are introduced to the characters and the plot. We can pick up almost immediately on the conflict, as the narrator reads about a boy named Sonny who is having issues with selling and using heroin. As the story unfolds, we will discover that the conflict is between the narrator and his younger brother Sonny, as a battle between Sonny and his drug problems and his older brother, who both comes to terms with Sonny's drug problems and ultimately understands the reasons for them.

The rising action is, as always, the bulk of the story. It is here where we see the conflict stir; tensions build between the protagonist and the issues he faces. In the story, our narrator eventually reaches out and writes to Sonny, and they end up writing back and forth. Once Sonny is out of jail, his brother finally meets with him. A large flashback constitutes a big part of the plot here, where we get all of the background information on the brothers' histories.

We climb toward the climax as Sonny invites his brother to come watch him play with his jazz band. As Sonny struggles to find his groove on the piano, the tension in the story is at an all-time high. We reach the climax as Sonny finally gets back in the groove of his music, and his brother is there watching him, understanding: "And Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found a damn brand-new piano." The climax peaks as Creole explains what the blues are, and our narrator is struck with an understanding: "Listen, Creole seemed to be saying, listen. Now these are Sonny's blues."

In the falling action, while the band plays, our narrator ponders what he has just seen and what he thinks of it. He understands now what Sonny has been through and what both of them have been through. The conflict is resolved as he realizes that Sonny is not so much to blame as his experiences are and that him not being there to help Sonny as a brother didn't help matters. We are left with a feeling of understanding, empathy, and love between the two of them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sonny's Blues," the a-chronological frame of the story surrounds the flashback, which occurs in correct chronology. Therefore, the flashback represents, first, the exposition of the plot with the typical Sunday evening, which introduces the situation and perhaps also the inciting element, which might be the times the brothers hid from their suffering in movies. The flashback section also represents the rising action, which may include the memory of the narrator's conversation with the brothers' mother and Sonny's choice of jazz music over classical. The rising action builds to the climax,.

The chronology would continue with the incident that opens the story, Sonny's brother reading about Sonny's arrest, which would be a complication preceding the climax. The chronological order is then maintained in the rest of the opening frame that continues until the flashback is introduced, which, of course, interrupts the chronology. The climax occurs after the flashback. A climax in literature is the point at which the resolution is set in motion. It may also be the most emotional or emotion producing section, but emotion is not a requisite element of a climax.

In "Sonny's Blues" the climax comes when both brothers independently witness the revival and each has an epiphany, a moment of enlightenment and/or clarity, that predicts and sets up the resolution. Immediately following the revival (metaphorically and symbolically appropriate), Sonny's brother listens to Sonny's point of view for the first time and the brothers talk genuinely and sincerely about suffering and the aids to stepping out of suffering's pain. Their conversation is part of the falling action, or denouement, which leads to the resolution.

The resolution comes at the jazz club when three things occur almost simultaneously. These are that Sonny plays "Am I Blue," his brother realizes the blues have given Sonny some degree of freedom (no matter how shallow and inadequate, which is evident because he is a heroin addict and just got out of prison), and the reader witnesses the brothers both start on the path of inner freedom from suffering, although great questions still remain about Sonny's future safety and happiness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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

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.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on