James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues examines the ways in which people strive to escape from stifling conditions and find a more peaceful home within themselves. Set in the Harlem ghetto, the story depicts the strained relationship between Sonny, a heroin addict and his brother, a teacher. The narrator is unable to identify with his brother's lifestyle, generating a chasm in their relationship. Contradicting motifs—darkness and light—showcase this struggle, with the darkness representing the sobering reality of human suffering and the light symbolizing a lost innocence.
[...] In the narrator's first encounter with Sonny following prison release, they drive through their old neighborhood, trying to rediscover and regain some sort of childhood purity. However, in passing houses nearly replicas of the one in which they lived, the narrator realizes that every boy eventually falls victim to the same darkness: Boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster.” (p. [...]
[...] New generations of suffering replace the old ones and trample whatever light remains. The cab moved through streets which seemed, with a rush, to darken with dark people.” (p. 32). The hardships associated with growing up in the inner-city acts as common denominator between the members of Harlem as well as the two brothers. “It's always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.” (p. 32). Everyone misses the innocence of youth because of the starkness of reality; indeed, the narrator and Sonny miss parts of each other that remind them of such purity. [...]
[...] He realizes that light only lasts for so long.; the inevitability of harsh reality always returns. He can either choose to flee from that darkness—continue fruitless searches for innocence and abandon his brother, or accept that perpetual suffering composes life. He plainly responds, right so it can come again.” (p. 45). The narrator may not support the heroin, but he now supports the man behind the drugs. To further exhibit his newfound reception, the narrator agrees to attend Sonny's concert, recognizing that the piano as symbolic of a drug fix. [...]
[...] The narrator asserts that light can be just as dangerous as darkness if consumed too eagerly. The band players have been previously overwhelmed by the light of their outlets—drugs. However, from experience they understand that sometimes clinging to the fantasy and innocence becomes the downfall as immersing one's self in such fiction means ignoring reality and dismissing the importance of an honest life. Sonny may not be professionally stellar, but the music sounded raw and real. As the music erupts around the narrator, he notes, “while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. [...]
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