Baldwin was not an unknown writer even before Sonny's Blues, a short story, was published in the year 1957. This story first appeared in Partisan Review that was one of the most popular and respected journals at that time. Sonny's Blues was published once again by Baldwin in the year 1965. This time he published it in his collection of short stories that was called "Going to Meet the Man."
This story had the potential of attracting a good deal of positive criticism; nonetheless all the analysts viewed this story with different perspectives. Even before this short story was published, Baldwin had a reputation for writing about African-American issues; so many critiques were of the view that this story was based on racism. "Definitely, Baldwin acted like a spokesman when the American civil rights movement was going in during the 1950s and the 1960s because a number of his writings address the issues of racial discrimination of that era" (Tackach, 2007).
Yet the others thought that Sonny's Blues was about music, the abuse of drugs and the suffering of humanity. A part of all these themes was seen in this story, and it was claimed as one of the best pieces of literature.
The main theme of this short story is the integration of Drugs, Culture and Music. The writer of this story explains in Sonny's Blues how the triangle of these three things influences the cultural relations of the people, particularly pertaining to the oppression that existed in the African-American society in the 1950s. In this story, the writer explains how Sonny uses music as an escape from this oppression and how he is imprisoned for being an addict. The story, based on two brothers, takes many twists and turns until it finally comes to a smooth conclusion.
Analysis of the plot
As mentioned before, this story revolves around a young jazz musician who is called Sonny and who belongs to Harlem. It is interesting to note that Harlem is the place where Baldwin belongs to. Critiques cannot resist making connections between him and the narrator as the narrator's identity has not been revealed in this story. Sonny becomes a heroin addict when he goes out to pursue his career in music, in an attempt to escape from the oppressed society. He then gets arrested because he is charged for selling and using heroin and other drugs. After he is released from the prison, Sonny returns to his childhood neighborhood where he moves in with his brother, who is the narrator of the story.
The way Baldwin explains the interaction between the two brothers when they first meet is actually quite real, and therefore gives one an opportunity to think on the lines that the narrator might be someone very close to Baldwin's heart. After a period of tension between the two brothers, they finally reconnect. Throughout the tension period, it has been explained in the story how the two brothers try to deal with the anger and frustration that they feel towards each other.
Although, drugs has been the main focus of this short story, themes like the significance of family ties, music and the struggle that one goes through to make his life worth have also been taken into consideration. The short story is just very close to reality, explaining the trials and tribulations of humanity in general and a citizen of an oppressed class in particular.
It will not be wrong to say that "Sonny's Blues" is not a very easy story to read for multiple reasons. One of the main reasons for this is that it focuses, with different angles and perspectives, on the human suffering. The reason why this increases the admiration of the reader for this short story is that all of us can related to what is being told in the story, in one way or another. All of us have struggled to make something out of lives at some point in time.
There are so many people out there who are forced to do something that they do not want to do. The same is the case explained in this story as Sonny is pushed towards drugs so that he could find an escape from his high school, where he used to feel trapped because he wanted to pursue his career in music. "Suffering is one of the most important themes of this short story as it depicts how Sonny and the narrator endure the problems in their lives. This story uncovers how diverse these sufferings are and also explains the reasons why Sonny's brother is unable to understand him. When Sonny is extremely stressed out in his life, his brother does not let him express himself and his creativity. In short, this story just summarizes a few aspects of the struggle that the black people have to go through in their lives" (Making arguments about literature, 2005).
In this story, it has been explained how Sonny works through his troubled mind to devise a way out for himself so that he can live normally in this world. He has his own views, likes and dislikes, for which people around him do not have a lot of respect. No one will disagree with me when I say that each one of us can place ourselves in the position of Sonny when we were in high school, when we had to listen to whatever our coaches, teachers and parents said. Even if we did have our own passions and even if we viewed the world in a different way, some things were just hurled upon us. Needless to say, it is a very frustrating situation when we cannot express our views and opinions and even when we do, they are turned down by people and not respected. It was just the case with Sonny when his brother did not understand his desire to become a musician or his desire to join the army before he finished school. Sonny feels just the same kind of constraint that each of us do, at some level, as young adults.
This is in fact one of the first and foremost reasons why so many people cared about this story. However, almost all of us will not turn to drugs as an escape and we would not even stand by Sonny for opting for drugs. On the other hand, it is also true that each one of us has a different way of reacting to such situations and dealing with them. We all struggle, but with different intensities. " Sonny injected heroin in his veins so that he could get some idea of what was going on around him, because in the real life he had lost control over everything" (Hamilton, 2008).
Even though, as mentioned before, this story is about a lot of things. Nonetheless, it almost always come down to the point where the writer explains how this young guy is trying so hard to find out what he wants to become content in life. He is seen to struggle to discover a way through his he could tell the world how creative he was so that he took him seriously. "Sonny's Blues" is also about how, because of frustration and constraints, Sonny makes wrong decisions when he is trying to cope up with the whole situation of his own suffering. However, the story has not been written as a caution for the young people to be careful in what decisions they take that can ultimately affect their whole lives. Light and darkness are used by the writer constantly to highlight hope, despair, gloom and warmth in the lives of the characters. Sonny's face has been described making use of the light when he was young and passionate.