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Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin


Baldwin felt that art had the potential to save people from pain, or at the very least, to lessen it. On the other hand, Sonny utilizes blues and jazz as an outlet for his emotions, which his brother first does not comprehend. However, once Sonny’s brother visits the jazz club and sees Sonny perform, he realizes the force and significance of music in Sonny’s life. This story perfectly correlates with the lines from the Beatles song, “It always lead me here / Lead me to your door” (The Beatles verse 1). It demonstrates the desire for a path of mutual understanding and reunification, reflecting the solution of family problems. “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is a narrative piece of writing based on a selection of literary elements and the rising and falling actions in the plot.

Author Background

James Baldwin, a well-known author and essayist witnessed American racial warfare’s tragic results and he “emerged as the spokesman of the civil rights movement” (Biography 00:11). Baldwin’s literary career began in the final years of legalized segregation. His reputation as a social observer rose in lockstep with the civil rights movement as he reflected black people’s hopes, frustrations, and coping mechanisms in a hostile environment. It is worth noting that it helped him to “became one of the best-selling black authors in the world” (TED-Ed 00:31). As a homosexual man, Baldwin’s work concentrated on the complexity of not just the position of Blacks in America but also the role of gay people who endured heinous criticism and discrimination during his rise through the literary ranks.

Major Character

Sonny is depicted as a heroin-addicted jazz musician, an image that his brother keeps until the end of the story. Sonny was just caught for “peddling and using heroin” and sentenced to jail in upstate New York. The reader learns more about Sonny’s life before his incarceration as the story proceeds. He was the “apple of his father’s eye,” yet he had a habit of deviating from what his family considered to be the safe path in his adolescence (Baldwin 8). He decides to pursue a career as a jazz musician, a decision that his brother regrets.

He is so devoted to his music that his family thinks him unusual thus, “it wasn’t like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound” (Baldwin 15). Sonny and his brother quarrel regularly and are entirely unable to communicate until Sonny is released from prison and his brother travels to Greenwich Village to see Sonny perform. Sonny’s brother learns to grasp the deep anguish and the blues that have always bothered Sonny when he plays the piano at the jazz club.

Minor Character

Sonny’s adventures are depicted from the perspective of the story’s narrator, Sonny’s brother. The unnamed narrator is a high school mathematics teacher who grew up in Harlem but has tried to escape its harsh streets by gaining a solid career and assimilation into white culture as best he can. However, he has internalized many of that society’s biases in subtle ways. When Sonny’s desire to perform jazz becomes apparent, his brother believes that “it seemed – beneath him, somehow” (Baldwin 12). While Sonny’s blues have taken over his life, his brother has internalized his blues, which only come to the surface on rare occasions. He thinks that “people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?” (Baldwin 13). He considers Harlem’s streets to be a place he has left behind, yet he is at ease there. The brother senses Sonny’s blues, but he has been able to bury them deep inside himself because of his little success.

Rising and Falling Action

Sonny tries to cure his suffering by surrendering to the mind-numbing effects of heroin at first. Still, he almost immediately realizes that performing jazz offers him a similar type of escape from his worldly woes. Baldwin makes a forceful statement about the positive and recuperative nature of creation. When the narrator eventually agrees to hear Sonny and his band perform, he gets a revelation about the power of music to communicate a shared experience. “There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness,” says the character (Baldwin 24). The narrator’s thoughts go from a reflection on independence to memories of his family as he is carried up in the overwhelming beauty of his brother’s music. The brother says: “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did” (Baldwin 24). For the narrator, jazz becomes a vehicle for tracing an African American ancestry.


When the narrator is watching Sonny play at the club at the end of the narrative, the phrase “Sonny’s blues” appears. But, in the end, the story is about Sonny’s fight with the blues as he recovers from his heroin addiction. Heroin is an enticing outlet for Sonny’s emotions, but he knows it will kill him in the end. Sonny is trying to hide his blues, but in a letter to his brother, he acknowledges that “trouble is the one thing that never does get stopped” (Baldwin 5). However, music offers a way out of the blues, and during Sonny’s solo at the end of the narrative, his brother recognizes this: “he could help us to be free if we would just listen” (Baldwin 24). The plot revolves around Sonny’s blues, according to Baldwin. Sonny has not yet gone through anything particularly horrific than his brother, but he feels it more intensely.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues. Penguin Books Ltd, 2021.

Biography. “James Baldwin – Writer | Mini Bio | BIO.” YouTube, uploaded by Biography, 2018, Web.

TED-Ed. “Notes of a Native Son: The World According to James Baldwin – Christina Greer.” YouTube, uploaded by TED-Ed, 2019, Web.

The Beatles. “The Beatles – The Long and Winding Road.” Genius, 1970, Web.

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"Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin." StudyKraken, 27 Dec. 2022,

1. StudyKraken. "Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin." December 27, 2022.


StudyKraken. "Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin." December 27, 2022.


StudyKraken. 2022. "Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin." December 27, 2022.


StudyKraken. (2022) 'Analysis of “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin'. 27 December.

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