James Baldwin`s Story Sonny’s Blues

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Sonny’s Blues was written by the phenomenal writer, James Baldwin. The story raises awareness of substance abuse and addiction while simultaneously showcasing Baldwin’s early childhood. Many refer to Baldwin as a laureate and a vivid story teller. Sonny’s Blues, which was published in 1957, starts off with the narrator reading about his brother being caught in heroin-peddling action in the newspaper. Later, he is met by a friend of his brother’s, who says they will eventually release him but he will be alone. When he converses with his brother, the narrator reminisces about his childhood in Harlem. His mother had told him to watch over his brother, as the latter shared the same sense of ‘privacy’ as his father, which meant that they couldn’t make the grade unaided. She recounts the way his father’s brother was killed by whites running over him with their car, and how she had deemed it taboo for the children. During his mother’s funeral, he attempts to ask his brother what he wants to do with his life. He tells him he wants to become a jazz musician: a piano player. In the end, the narrator is taken to a jazz joint where Sonny is performing. Before they go, Sonny tells him that he has taken heroin in the past to help him “deal” with the hardships of life. He uses the experience of addiction to dig from his soul and create his art. Evidently, Sonny’s performance holds the audience captive. His music evokes the narrator’s epiphany that music can free them (blacks) from racial discrimination as seen in Harlem in the 1960s. This is a reflection on the time in which this story was published. When viewed through the psychoanalytic lens, James Baldwin, world-renowned author, and writer of “Sonny’s Blues,” expresses the ideology that overcoming obstacles that are excruciating to phase can result in immense personal growth and the achievement of one’s endeavors.

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In the start of Sonny’s Blues, Baldwin enhances the troubles of drug abuse and how where they live (meaning their neighborhood, etc) could open a new door to drugs. For example, “He had been picked up, the evening before, in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using heroin.” (3). Here you begin to become familiar with Sonny’s horrible addiction, and it sparks the idea that Sonny isn’t safe because his decisions could put him in such danger. He is at the stage where he’s falling down the wrong path due to his addiction to heroin and doesn’t seem to realize the health consequences. “Yet it had happened and here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe it did more for them than algebra could.” (5). This shows that for those kids, growing up in Harlem and doing hardcore drugs, maybe “There only way out”. Though it isn’t the best decision, their environment may affect their choices. Hence, the beginning of the story captures the troubles of drug addiction and how that could be affected by their living environments.

In the middle of the story, Sonny is still struggling and battling drug addiction. Though, family is more shown has the storyline gets more in depth and it shows how those experiences could negatively or positively affect the protagonist. “He and Sonny hadn’t ever got on too well. And this was partly because Sonny was the apple of his father’s eye. It was because he loved Sonny so much and was frightened for him, that he was always fighting for him.” (79). This could have shown how his father wanted him to grow and change from doing heroin to being clean and living a healthier, happier, lifestyle. “You got to hold on to your brother,” she said, “and don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening and no matter how evil you gets with him.” (104). Sonny’s mother will do anything to make sure Sonny is protected and that he will be able to recover. Overall, as the middle of the story begins to be more oriented in the story, family is brought up more to show more affection for Sonny as he is recovering. In the end of the story, Sonny has been recovering and changing from his decisions, realizing drugs aren’t good decision and the pain he had put himself through. Hence, he has somewhat realized he had been changing into a person who had self affection, etc. He had also realized his home (Harlem) and how it had shaped him into the person he is today. “When I came back, nothing had changed, I hadn’t changed, I was just – older.” This shows how his home wasn’t any different, but he was. It had been waiting for him, waiting for him to come back happier. “And he did. And I’d known this avenue all my life, but it seemed to me again, as it had on the day I’d first heard about Sonny’s trouble, filled with a hidden menace which was its very breath of life.” (73). This shows that Sonny’s “home” had used to be an open door for drugs, but as Sonny grew and changed, it began to feel like something more welcoming. Overall, in the story “Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin recalls his childhood memories to tell this heart-wrenching story, and to show how overcoming such adversities in life can result in growth in every aspect of one’s life through the use of the psychoanalytic lens. It is evident with the protagonist, Sonny, how he is able to become a wonderful musician given the merciless and cruel situations that he faced. Sonny was not his addiction, but his addiction and great journey to sobriety is now a part of him. His life has become incorporated into his music. His struggles don’t hold him back anymore. This story is inspirational and motivational for many and a sign that when hard times arise, one must learn to accumulate the oppression, the sadness, and the anger and use it towards their benefit.

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James Baldwin`s Story Sonny’s Blues. (2020, Apr 14). Retrieved February 1, 2023 , from

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