InJames Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” the writer conveys variousissues that troubled an American family. In the narrative, Baldwin’scentral theme is repeated suffering, where he emphasizes how it leadsto individual, family, and societal distress. Family bond, a subjectthat Baldwin depicts in the narrative, expresses how a family shouldbe compassionate and kind to help each other. The writer uses Sonny,the narrator’s brother, to build a theme of passion, who led a lifeas a jazz pianist that he followed despite the narrator’s effortsto thwart him. Additionally, salvation and relief are also the themesthat the story creates, notably through the use of drugs as a sourceof relief. The “cup of trembling,” derived from the Biblical bookof Isaiah is a sign of reparation. Therefore, Baldwin’s storyrevolves around a troubled society whose desperateness and apathy sawcontinued suffering throughout generations.
Thetheme of cyclical suffering is the central issue around Baldwin’sstory. The author emphasizes that pain is universal and that it isalso recurrent. Also, a miserable life tends to lead to a more sadlife. In the story setup, Baldwin describes his high school studentsas presenting no hopes of the future as drugs and violence were partof their lives. The narrator describes gunmen as “Their headsbumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actualpossibilities” (Baldwin 123). Baldwin illustrates that suffering isa characteristic in almost every African American through thenarrator’s father and brother, who lived a miserable life to apoint where an unknown white person shot the narrator`s uncle.
Inhis narrative work, Baldwin informs the reader that family membershave a significant responsibility of ensuring familial compassion andtenderness which is the fundamental factor that binds them together.According to the author, the failure of familial consideration leadsto failure in significant obligations in a family. The clearestillustration is when the narrator fails to live up to his promise tohis mom that he would always stand by his brother, Sonny. As thenarrator describes, “When I saw him many things I thought I hadforgotten came flooding back to me. This was because I had begun,finally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny livedinside” (Baldwin 127). This phrase means that the narrator was notsincere with the promise he had made to his mother that he hardlythought of Sonny when he was imprisoned.
Thereporter and Sonny live in a society that tries to manipulate them asit is flooded with misery. Baldwin juxtaposes their character inwhich Sonny lives a life of passion whereas the narrator lives anorderly and responsible life. Both of their lifestyles are in anattempt to control their pervasive suffering. Sonny tells hisbrother, “I can make a living at it. However, what I don’t seemto be able to make you understand is that it is the only thing I wantto do” (Baldwin 135). Sonny is obsessed with his passion as a jazzinstrumentalist since he believes that music is the only way he couldmitigate the pain.
Everycharacter in Baldwin’s story lives a life governed by misery. Inthe story, Baldwin illustrates instances of relief and salvationdespite the suffering faced by the characters. For example, Sonny’sdrug use is an attempt to relieve himself from the predicaments hefaces in life. Additionally, Sonny’s genre of music is an obviousexample of relief that the narrator believes it. “He couldhelp us to be free if we would listen”(Baldwin 148). For the first time, music makes him admit his misery.
Inconclusion, Baldwin’s story is a reflection of a troubled familythat has a different stance on how to alleviate sufferings. Baldwinbelieves that through compassion, members of the family can lead ahappy and affectionate life. The story presents themes of cyclicalsuffering, salvation, and relief. However, the narrator mentions thesignificance of familial bonds that could aid in the attainment ofobligations within a society that tries to manipulate people.
Baldwin,James. "Sonny’s Blues." Goingto Meet the Man.Ed. Vintage Books, 1957:122-148. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.