In Sonny’s Blues, author James Baldwin portrays the ways in which two brothers can be completely different – both socially and economically. The narrator, who is the older brother, was able to assimilate, rising beyond the constraints and obstacles that lay in front of him. Alternatively, his younger brother Sonny remains trapped and misunderstood by the confines of the darkness that “roars outside”(Baldwin). It almost seems like just being African American is a set up. “What is beyond the ghetto to a black man in a white mans nation?” Looking at this piece of literature through the historical lens we can find many references in James Baldwin’s work and characters that so closely resemble his experience and those deleterious effects that African Americans face.
James Baldwin was born in 1924. He was from a city that is known to be notorious for high crime amongst the African American population. Baldwin came from a big family and had a love for education and learning. The Harlem Renaissance helped to pave the way for many African Americans, including James Baldwin. In fact, he had a teacher by the name of Counteen Culin who “was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance”. Baldwin’s education played a critical role in the way he shaped his literature. James Baldwin was gifted in his writing “ He broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works”(Victor, 2003). It is not surprising that his work perfectly paints the injustices and tribulations of a black man in Harlem. Thus, Baldwin’s literary art portrayed African Americans’ intergenerational traumas.
Despite the many oppressions that people like Baldwin experienced, some African Americans were able to have a successful life. However, because of those same oppressions, some African Americans from the same family were victims of this same oppression and could not overcome their experiences. I think that the story of a successful sibling and the drug-connected tragedy of another sibling is played out time and again because of the racial and economic societal oppressions against African Americans.
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