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Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin


The story “Sonny’s Blues” was written by James Baldwin. The story is a narrative essay of the author’s own story. In his story, he describes the hardships and struggles he and his whole family has gone through. The story has three main characters, the author himself, his brother Sonny and the author’s mother. The story describes the racial discrimination and hates that this family faced when they lived in Harlem. The struggles and suffering that family went through affected the family in different ways and author eventually became a mathematics professor while his brother became a drug addict and criminal. The narrator in this story is felt to have overlooked the pain and suffering that his family is gone through, but gradually accepts it and understands why Sonny chose this life. The author then justifies how his brother may have chosen “heroin” as a solution to get relief from his pain. The story has various references to the death of Sonny’s father and uncle, and the miserable life of Harlem which affected the youth of the area and escape from this life was impossible. Baldwin’s character Sonny’s pain and suffering in his childhood is the genesis of his drug addiction.


Sonny’s life events had a great impact on his mental condition. The place of Harlem had very high crime rate, and it was so easy for anyone to get involved in this environment especially the kids who are immature. The death of Sonny’s birth father shook him when he was in school. When Sonny’s uncle died from a brutal accident in which he was walking on the road and was run over by a car driven by drunk boys, it made Sonny depressed, and his depression was extreme when he saw his mother die while he was still a kid. He faced in life extreme racial hate and poverty that eventually made her mother move to her parents’ home in another city. Sonny’s drug addiction is the most prominent factor that became a cause of his misery. He got caught while possessing drugs and was sent to jail. The time he spent in the jail filled him with rage and hate of white community who he thought to be the murderer of his uncle. Sonny was close to his mother, and her mother also was very protective of her children. The influence that her death made on Sonny was devastating as he had no one left now in the world. Unlike her mother’s advice, Baldwin did not take care of his brother, and Sonny ended up in jail which further depressed him.

Sonny was deranged by the racial hatred he faced in his childhood, and it badly affected him. Racial hate is the factor that silently drove Sonny mad about the dominant white community. He saw racial discrimination in his school and where he lived in Harlem. The down-trodden society of Harlem though affected everyone passively, but as Sonny was a kid and he saw the death of his uncle by white drunkards, he developed more hate for the white community. Racial hate was one of the prominent factors that can be attributed to the cause of Sonny’s suffering. The death of his uncle disturbed Sonny’s father as he thought he could have saved his brother’s life. Seeing his father’s misery, Sonny developed more hate for the white community in his mind. It later became one of the reasons for his drug addiction.

Sonny opted drugs and music as relief of his pain. Sonny’s drug usage was justified by the narrator as to avoid the pain in life and later in the story when he chose jazz music as a cure for his pain. The author used a holistic picture to describe some factors influencing Sonny’s life and how Sonny being a kid chose the option that did more harm than good. Sonny then opted music as a relief when he chose to live with Baldwin and Isabel’s family. He started playing piano, but when he felt that he is unable to meet the expectations of the family, he ran away and became a regular drug consumer. His drug usage consumed him, and he got arrested for it. After his release, he recognized music as the driving force in life and the only cure he can have to forget the harsh realities of life. The narrator describes music as not only a motivation to live for sonny but also as an emotional and mental purgation for him.


The life of Sonny as described by the narrator describes how harsh life could be and how people get affected by living in harsh environments. Sonny’s character is described to have taken the negative influence of the crime rich society of Harlem. However, his drug addiction is not only the cause of bad influence he had from the society; but it is also due to his pain and sufferings that shook him in his younger age. The death of his father, uncle, and mother devastated his life, and he had nobody left who can take care of him. The racial hate he faced in his childhood and the death of his uncle was another reason of his pain and to overcome his pain he chose the option of jazz music and drugs to overcome his pain. This story and Sonny’s character explains that continued suffering eventually makes a person to seek relief and he starts looking for refuge in other material things which sometimes do more harm than good.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny’s blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.



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