Sonny’s Blues is a short story written by James Baldwin. The story depicts the life of a young jazz musician who is named Sonny. Throughout the story, the main character faces lots of problems as many talented people do. This simple but perfectly written story about a musician and his brother exposes the themes of socioeconomic struggles in the Black community, family relationships, drug addiction, and the healing effect of jazz music.
Reading this literary work, it is rather hard not to sympathize with the main character. Together, all the struggles that he has to overcome resemble a really big tragedy. It is significant to note that Sonny is haunted by many problems at his younger age and this pushes him into becoming a drug addict. At his young age, Sonny has to deal with problems relating to poverty, being black, and living within the confines of the community. Despite his addiction, Sonny is not a brutal or violent individual like other boys in his community, he does not like violence. This is illustrated by the narrator’s assertion that, “it does no good to fight with Sonny because he will move back inside himself where he cannot be reached” (Barnet, Burto and Cain 369). Importantly, Sonny tries to overcome drug addiction and the looming arrest by deciding to move from Harlem to begin a music career that saves him from continued use of drugs.
After release from prison, Sonny makes a decision to take a new approach to life. This emphasizes his positivity toward life and the need to change into an admirable individual in life. The decision for Sonny to change his life is motivated by the fear of being ever arrested again. In line with the decision to change, the narrator tells Sonny, “you are getting to be a big boy and you need to start thinking about your future” (Barnet, Burto and Cain 372) In reply, Sonny confirms his focus on changing his life with the assertion, “I am thinking about my future and I think about it all the time” (Barnet, Burto and Cain 372). Indeed, the incarceration had given him a difficult experience that he wanted to forget first and move away from it completely. Again, Sonny wanted to forge ahead with the motivation to overcome the addiction to heroine. The decision to change brings out Sonny as a character motivated and focused on embracing to required changes in his life. He is not happy with maintaining the status quo that leads him into problems at all times.
As a character, Sonny is willing to try out new life that will enable him become a productive member of the society rather than a problem. It was only through music that Sonny got the opportunity to overcome his frustrations through artistic performances. He becomes busy by sticking to music and redeeming his audience. He believes that music is the only possible hope that would help him redeem his image and live a better life in the society where everyone appreciates him. He pushed hard in the music to ensure that he stays focused to avoid further tribulations in his life. The work hard that Sonny dedicates to music reiterates his desire for success in life and his potential to be the best in his practice. Sonny confirms his dedication to music with the reiteration that, “he did not know that the relationship between a musician and the instrument was awesome” (Barnet, Burto and Cain 374). Additionally, music is brought about as a tool that can be used to change the character of individuals completely and ensure they live according to the required and accepted laws.
However, Sonny still faces the risk of getting into drug addiction again through his music and performances. The narrator affirms that, “Sonny knows that playing music could have destroyed him by leading him back into drug addiction” (Barnet, Burto and Cain 375). The best thing that saved Sonny from going back to drugs is that he was a forward looking man that wanted to redeem his music career and image completely. He gave his all life to music and was committed to ensuring that he gets the best out of it. In regard to this, Sonny is brought out as a committed man who is ready to accomplish the mission he starts. He is not ready to go back once a progressive decision is made.
He faces enormous problems from his early age and finds it difficult to live with these problems in his life. Sonny believes that drug addiction is the best for his life until he is ultimately arrested for peddling and using heroin. According to the narrator, Sonny learns his lesson from the incarceration and decides to choose new life that would help him avoid drug abuse and the subsequent incarceration by the society’s authorities. Despite the risk that the music career would lead him back into drug addiction, Sonny focused on being appreciated by the community through living within the required means. Music is Sonny’s redemption tool.
In fact, the reason of Sonny’s sufferings is rather controversial. If reading the story skin-deep, it may really seem that Sonny is led to all the sufferings in his life by the fact that he is black and other problems that he faced as a child. However, analyzing Sonny’s Blues more deeply, readers can understand that no matter how difficult the life turns to be to a person, it is always up to person either to yield to difficult circumstances or to fight for his or her happiness. One should understand that a hard life is not an excuse and a justification for using drugs, which do not help at all. Everything that drugs can bring into one’s life is even bigger amount of problems. They do heal neither a body nor a mind. Therefore, digging deeper into the sense of this tragic story, it can be concluded that all the sufferings that Sonny has to overcome throughout his hard life were caused by his own wrong choices. The readers see Sonny’s brother who had a difficult child too. The narrator grew up in the same environment as Sonny, however their lives differ. Sonny’s brother managed to create a family, have a career and live a comfortable quiet life while the main character of the story decided that he was not strong enough to fight for his own happiness. This point represents the author’s message to the readers. By this story, James Baldwin wanted to show readers that it is always up to a person what choice to make and what life to live.
However, Sonny is not only the main character; he is also a hero of the story. It is represented by his recovering that bears resemblance to a catharsis. The young musician made a bad, wrong choice in his life. Surely, it is not appreciated by anyone, but he finds strength in himself and makes everything that is possible to start a new life that extremely differs from the one that he has always had. This deed shows the readers that it is never late at least to try to change one’s life for better. Sonny represents many verges of a human character. The readers see him as a drug addict, in other words, an antihero. Besides, one can see him as a tragic personality, and at last he becomes a real hero who is strong enough to take changes.
Barnet, Sylvan, William Burto and William E Cain. An Introduction to Literature: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: Longman, 2011.