Escapism in Sonny’s Blues, the Lottery, and no Speak English

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Desire to Escape

The desire of escaping reality stems from the unhappiness of one’s current situation. Unhappiness could be the lack of contentment, loss of family values or living in a false reality. It can also be “more often indicated by a simple wish for the masses to simply, magically, disappear.” (Krishna 2327). This unhappiness sometimes results in the need to be somewhere else or do something else with one’s life, such as moving away for a change of scenery, refusing to accept a new or different lifestyle or refusing to accept true facts as reality. Many examples of unhappiness and the results it can cause can be found throughout the texts.

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In “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, Sonny escapes his reality through a number of things including music, drugs and physically moving away from his family. Baldwin writes that Sonny’s brother is said to escape through teaching, “Some escaped the trap, most didn’t. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind…It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped, after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn’t lived in Harlem for years.”[Jam]. While the main character escapes by not getting involved in drug abuse and instead focusing on his studies to become a school teacher, it could be argued that though Sonny does abuse drugs, he still escapes by moving out of the city. Baldwin suggests that Sonny moves out when he writes, “Do you mind,” he asked, “if we have the driver drive alongside the park? On the west side I haven’t seen the city in so long.”” [Jam]. Sonny requests that they drive around the city, because he has not been there in so long. He escapes his reality and drug addiction through physically moving to a new place in order to start over again.

Another example of escaping is shown in “No Speak English” by Sandra Cisneros, where the wife escapes her reality through her refusal to assimilate and adjust to a new life. She protests leaving the house and learning English, while instead she listens to Mexican music and fights with her husband about returning home. The author alludes to this idea in writing, “She sits all day by the window and plays the Spanish radio show and sings all the homesick songs about her country in a voice that sounds like a seagull.” [San2]. Mommacita escapes her husband’s forced new lifestyle through music while day dreaming about being back home, where she believes she belongs.

A loss of family values is the reason for a mother’s desire to escape in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Tessa is determined to escape her own fate when her family is chosen for the annual stoning by the towns people. She tries to minimize her chances of being picked in abandoning her family values by asking if her daughter could draw with them, deserting the safety of her family. Tessa also intentionally forgets things she knows to be true, living in a false reality at the time her family is chosen. The author suggests this in writing, “There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yell[s]. “Make them take their chance!” “Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr. Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”” [Shi]. While endangering her family Tessa attempts to escape the situation, she stops trying once she is finally chosen. This is made clear when Jackson writes, “Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head… “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.” [Shi]. Tessa does not fight back, or try to run or escape once she is alone and separated from her family. While she is still unhappy and desires to escape her current position, Tessa comes back to reality and accepts her fate. Tessa’s desire to escape dissolves throughout the story, and finally disappears at the end when the stoning begins.

The next illustration of living in a false reality can be seen in “Night Woman” by Edwidge Danticat. The son of the prostitute escapes the truth of how his mother keeps them alive through a variety of things. First, the mother gives her son her scarf that she wears during the day to comfort him as she works through the night. Danticat suggests this when she writes, “He wraps my long blood-red scarf around his neck, the one I wear myself during the day to tempt my suitors. I let him have it at night, so that he always has something of mine when my face is out of sight.” [Nig]. The mother still wants to comfort her son, even while she is working through the night. One of the night woman’s suitors even gives him a radio to distract him at night, the mother says, “I hear the buzz of his transistor radio. It is shaped like a can of cola. One of my suitors gave it to him to plug into his ears so he can stay asleep while Mommy works.” [Nig]. The mother gives her little boy an escape from the reality of her work, and the fact that she is gone most of the night. She tries to make up for it in gifts, such as the scarf and radio in an effort to comfort him even when she is gone.

The following instance of desiring to escape is “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros, the main character tries to escape her reality by changing her name. Esperanza does not want to repeat her grandmothers past because, “She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow”. [San]. Esperanza does not wish to relive what her grandmother already has, and in attempt to escape this fate she wishes to change her name. Later in the text she states “I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees.” [San]. In changing her name to something more ‘modern American’, Esperanza is determined to positively change the future she is bound to inherit.

In the final text, “Bums in the Attic” by Sandra Cisneros, the main character tries to escape through the fantasy of having things she knows she cannot have. Cisneros suggests this when she writes, “I want a house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works… I am tired of looking at what we can’t have.” [San1]. The main character’s family longs for a house and ultimately a life that they cannot obtain. The family escapes their current situation by day dreaming and house hunting although they know they will never live in places anything like the ones they dream of, thus living in a false reality to escape their real lives.

The concept of escaping and the desire to escape can be seen in many literary works. While in some texts characters’ desire to escape is successful, others are not, as seen in “The Lottery”. In most works of literature, a false reality is on display, creating a false world that specific characters live in while others come to a different conclusion and accept the true reality portrayed in the story, such as “Bums in the Attic”, “No Speak English” and “Night Woman”. However, there are some instances in which the characters are so determined to escape that they are successful as seen in “Sonny’s Blues” where both characters’ desire to escape is beneficial for them. Nevertheless, there is one thing that every text provided has in common, and that is the unhappiness the characters feel leads them to a desire to escape their current reality.

Works Cited

  • Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Art of the Short Story 13 (n.d.): 32. Cisneros, Sandra. “Bums in the Attic.” The House on Mango Street (1984). -. “My Name.” The House on Mango Street (1984).
  • “No Speak English.” The House on Mango Street (1984).
  • Danticat, Edwidge. “Night Woman.” The Art of the Story (1992): 196-197. Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The Art of the Short Story 13 (1949): 394-396.
  • Krishna, Sankaran. “The Bomb, Biography and the Indian Middle Class.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 41, no. 23, 2006, pp. 2327-2331. www.jstor.org/stable/4418323.
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Escapism in Sonny's Blues, The Lottery, and No Speak English. (2022, Dec 07). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from
https://studydriver.com/escapism-in-sonnys-blues-the-lottery-and-no-speak-english/

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