Sonny’s Blues Book Review

The paper is aimed at reviewing the short story ‘Sonny’s Blues’ by James Baldwin. The story is 27 pages long. The author’s aim is to touch the problems of identity crisis, growth and maturity, parents-children communication, the preassure African Americans suffer from in the society of the 50s and 60s. Having been raised in poverty in Harlem James Baldwin understands the problems most adilescents face enduring the period of maturity. The story of  a black American who has problems with drugs but finds the strenth to solve them developing his talent of playing the musical instrument prodiced a great effect in the literature of that period.

The story is told by the elder brother (whose name is unknown ) who watches the great changes in Sonny’s personality. Through the elder brother’s eyes we can see the variety of painful emotions and feelings that Sonny endures and the changes the story teller experiences himself. The problem of identity crisis is the maint point that is noticeable through the whole story. Sonny is a teenager who after his mother’s death has to stay with his brother’s family. That is a real torture for him. The new family does not love him, they just cannot throw him out of their house. Sonny tries to find himself in playing the piano. Music is his passion and he believes he can find support in his brother but he is mistaken. The elder brother does not consider playing the piano as a prospective career path and wants Sonny to find something down-to-earth. The incomprehension grows when the family recieves the letter from school which Sonny fails to attend. Always playing the piano that day Sonny keeps silence which is louder than the quarrel of the previous day. That is the last straw and Sonny goesto the navy forces. 


‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ - the question the story teller asks himself after yet another burst of anger from his sibling’s side. He is tired of those tricks and he does not want to notice that the younger brother grew up and became a man. They fought almost all the time so other people do not even pay attention to that. One day when the anger reaches the limit Sonny cries that he is already dead. That is the cry of despair when he needs his brother and rejects his help. The story teller loves his brother deep inside, they started smoking the same age, he went  through almost the same hardships but Sonny is weaker, he gets addicted to drugs. 

Sonny has difficulties in communication with father as well. Why so? The have the same charecters, they are both independent and lost souls who hide their weaknesses behind rude behavior. Although Sonny was the apple of father’s eye who adored his son and was frightened for him that did not prevent them from fights. 

Brothers’ rivarly has a chance to change its direction when the story teller gets to know about the details of his uncle’s death. He was killed by white Americans who drove their car being drunk. They wanted to scare him the way they liked to play with black people showing disrespect. That joke was fatal. Sonny’s father was crazy that night and for a long period after that. Living her last days the mother decided to tell the story to her elder son. She wanted her sons to become closer, to take care of each other. the elder brother is shocked. Unfortunately, two days later the story teller gets married and does not keep in touch with his sibling for a long period of time.

Extended flashbacks to the past help to understand the constant changes Sonny endures for some period of time. We see Sonny rude and rebellious talking to his brother and expressing his pain in music at the concert. We see Sonny a hard boy to understand and a kind child with bright and open face and wonderfully direct brown eyes.

Not only Sonny but also the narrator goes through some changes. He has a lot of chances to understand Sonny when his mother asks to take care of his brother, when Sonny says that he is dead being alive, when Sonny asks to listen to him and accept his desire to play the piano, but that does not work. The elder brother does not want to admit sibling’s right to chose the road of life and be what he really is. When Sonny gets into prison the narrator does not write him intil  the narrator’s young daughter, Grace, dies. Sonny writes a long letter back to his brother in which he tries to explain how he ended up where he is. After that the communication becomes constant. Grace’s death also changes the narrator’s attitude to his brother. He realizes that Sonny is one of few people who he can talk to and share the grief. 

Althoug our society has changed greatly since that time still we have the same problems now. Teenagers from black neighborhoods continue being one of the burning broblems of the American society. They skip school, take drugs, become criminals mostly because of the fact they grow up and hit their heads against the low ceiling of their possibilities. They have no choice, they cannot develop their talents, they do not have anyone to help them, to understand and to help to be the way they are. All teenagers need to express themselves. The method they choose for that depends on adults who should be the guides for the children in their struggling way to maturity.

There are some episodes in the book that made great impression on me and made the story meaningful and worth reading. One of them is when the narrator loses his daughter, Grace, and remmembers that he has a brother to talk to. he writes a letter and renews the relationships losing one member of the family and getting back the other one. That case in the narrator’s life makes him realize what it means to be a brother, a relative, a member of one family. 

The second mist impressive episode is the one where Sonny invites his brother to the concert and the later accepts the invitation. It was doffocult for the narrator to do it befor but that very moment he realises how important was that for his sibling. He comes to the club, sees pleasant people who admit that Sonny is talented and enjoys the concert. He looks at Sonny’s face, that expresses all the pain of his life, he sees how his brother fills the air with life, with his life. He rememberes his mother’s face,the hardships she had in her life, he visualises the scene of his uncle’s death, he remembers his daughter and Isabel’s tears and he has tears in his eyes. That is the moment of understanding, the moment two brothers become areal family members.

To conclude, I would like to say that family matters are not new topics in modern literature. Being studied through the eposodes of African American people’s life they become vibrant, palpitant and up-to-date due to the fact that the problems of the later have not been copletely solved.

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