Hardships And Struggles In 'Sonny's Blues'

Modified: 15th May 2017
Wordcount: 1103 words

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– Hardships and struggles come along as a part of being human. It is how one deals with these struggles and hardships that can either make or break a person. James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is a story that shows how people can react to the “blues” and how they can handle their own inner turmoil. It is a story that tells of the suffering the characters shared, the ideas that separate them and the music that finally brings them together. Yet the inner story is one of the narrator’s evolution from a man living in fear to a man who is finally able to embrace his pain and in this way rise above it. In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”, all of the main conflicts and struggles of the story sum up and are given resolutions in a matter of one paragraph (located on page 168 paragraph 3) creating a stylistic centre, summary and solution for the story. These main conflicts include: the internal conflict Sonny’s brother goes through to keep his promise to his mother of watching out for Sonny, Sonny’s struggles (both internal and with substance abuse), and the race-related problems occurring in Harlem at the time the story takes place. In this essay, the importance of this one paragraph’s impact to the entire story will be proven. It contains the resolutions to the main conflicts that accumulate throughout the story and creates a sense of overall hope when the majority of the story is about losing hope and the characters’ downfalls.

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In this paragraph, Sonny’s problems are surely not solved, however it is obvious that he comes to an understanding with himself and is heading to the better place in his life. Sonny, the central character in this story, struggles not only with a deadly addiction with substance abuse, but also an inner struggle self doubt not only due to a likely case of clinical depression, but his brother’s criticism over his career choice certainly doesn’t aid matters. Statements like “Sometimes, you know, and it was actually when I was most out of the world.” (165) when Sonny was talking to his brother about his mental state is just one example which proves that Sonny was in and out of reality from time to time due to the depression. The heroine addiction is a positive for Sonny and is a tool that he uses to get out of the trap of the streets. Sonny’s heroine problem only seems to be a conflict that his brother has todeal with as to how to help Sonny. The concern that his brother has about it seems to fade away once he starts to understand Sonny’s perspective on life. This sense of understanding is established in the designated paragraph. By the end of the story, Sonny is finally taken seriously as an artist by his brother and is applauded by all after his performance.

Seeing Sonny’s internal struggle and defiance to take his life seriously and become something of himself, his brother, through a series of events, starts to become detached from Sonny. The narrator, Sonny’s brother whose name is never mentioned, has promised his mother to always look out for Sonny and “let him know [he’s] there” (156). The significance of the chosen paragraph shows the rekindling aspects and a sense of understanding of his relationship with Sonny as he watches him perform. After years of criticizing his brother’s ambition of become a famous jazz artist, the narrator appreciates and recognizes his brother’s talent as an artist by calling his playing “beautiful because it wasn’t hurried and it was no long a lament” (168). He feels as though he is fulfilling his promise to his mother to watch over Sonny by understanding the struggles and hardships he’s been through better. Sonny’s brother says “I had heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth” (168). The everlasting conflicts between these two brothers are obviously not resolved, nevertheless, the narrator has just begun to understand Sonny and sympathize with his struggles in this paragraph indicating an improvement their relationship.

Another problem that both Sonny and his brother grew up with was the racial segregation in Harlem. The segregation is first introduced in the story when the narrator’s mother speaks to the narrator about the hardships their family has seen because of this segregation. She speaks of how the narrator’s uncle had passed away when killed by a Caucasian man, and how this had affected his father deeply. “Till the day he died he weren’t sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother” (156). This specific paragraph gives hope to this situation and the narrator believes that change is occurring and that “[Sonny] could help [them] to be free if [they] would listen” (168). In this paragraph the struggle for African Americans in Harlem and all around America at that time is not nearly resolved, however there’s a resolution. It is the music that brought them together and the music that liberates the African Americans at this time.

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James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” is a story that deals with many complications and struggles concerning family-related disputes, addiction, obligations, and segregation. In the end, none of these problems are completely resolved but are on the track of resolving themselves. In the case of the relationship between Sonny and his brother, it is clear that the relationships has had its ups and downs, however an effort is being in patching up their relationship and the brothers beginning to understand and appreciate each other more. As for Sonny, he himself admits that the struggle of addiction continues until the very end. However, Sunny finds a sense of self by the end of the story; he is an applauded jazz artist. The issue of the racial segregation in Harlem continues, but the narrator decides that the freedom of the African Americans lies in their music. This one paragraph doesn’t reflect all of the struggles the characters have encountered throughout the story, but it shows the change that has occurred and also shows signs of hope. This one paragraph mirrors the moral of the story. “The world wait[s] outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretch[es] above us, longer than the sky” (168). Troubles will meet us wherever we go, it is how we deal with these problems that can make or break us.


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