Finding the contrast between light and darkness can be often described as the difference between being on the inside or the outside. The short story Sonny’s Blues written by James Baldwin setting takes place in Harlem. Throughout the short story, Harlem is numerously referred to as a “trap” (James Baldwin 73) and the narrator and his brother, Sonny, has a constant battle to change their environment because “those who got out always left something of themselves behind” (73). The word darkness is also a term used during the text to depict the current conditions of their, African-American, community. Even though the narrator and his brother both experienced traveling all over the country due to enlisting in the military, they are unable to escape their Harlem community as they end up back in Harlem at the end of their service.
One can view the circumstances of the narrator as him escaping the darkness since he is a math teacher at the local high school, a respectable father, and an honorable husband. The narrators subconsciously know that his children will face the same obstacle’s he and Sonny faced growing up. The narrator current housing situation doesn’t seem much different from his childhood because he is living in a “housing project” (73) in the “trap” (73).During the cab ride after Sonny gets out of prison, the narrator and Sonny collectively agree that there are minimal changes to their local community since their childhood upbringing.
The narrator explains, “these streets hadn’t changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea” (73). Furthermore, the narrator states, “The moment Sonny and I started into the house I had the feeling that I was simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape” (74).It is obvious that music has an underlining meaning and an important role in the short story.
Even the title can have one thinking that the story would be about blues music. On the contrary the narrator brother Sonny plays jazz. However, blues music can be described as slow sad songs. The narrator explains to the reader that the blues is what the story is made up “for, 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” (92). Sonny played the piano growing up as if he was “playing for his life” (82).
For Sonny and his band, jazz music was simply a “new way to make us listen” to “what the blues were all about” (92). The narrator and his brother Sonny, engage is overdue conversation as they watch out the window a spiritual gathering take place. During the brotherly conversation, singing from the spiritual gathering made them feel “warm and cool at the same time” (86). As the conversation continues to upfold, Sonny asks the narrator to accompany him to a nightclub to hear him play jazz. The narrator feels apprehensive but agrees to go see Sonny play his music.
The setting of the nightclub where Sonny plays jazz is a large dim room. The narrator explains that the nightclub was the “only” (89) one on “short dark street, downtown” (89). As Sonny and the narrator enter the “jampacked bar” (89) they just stood there until they were able to see. Meanwhile in the darkness, there is a calmness about Sonny that the overly crowded, dark, bar provides an inner peace over chaos.
The narrator and Sonny then hears a “hello boy” (89) and then the narrator watches the “enormous black man” (89) “put an arm around Sonny’s shoulder” (89). The man, Creole, is Sonny’s musician friend. Creole tells Sonny that he was, “waiting for you” (89).
Sonny introduces the narrator to his friend and they began to walk. As they walked through the nightclub, “everyone knew Sonny” (89) and the narrator felt like he was in “Sonny’s world” (89). Maybe for Sonny, his answer to his definition of “suffering” (87) could be inside the nightclub in all the darkness, maybe the solution is not escaping it after all.Creole, “installed” (90) the narrator by himself, “at a table in a dark corner” (90). As the narrator watched closely in the dim the nightclub he notes, “I watched them” (90) “as they horsed around standing just below the bandstand” (90). As the band move into the lights, “Creole took Sonny by the arm and led him to the piano” (90) The on lookers begin to applaud and even yell out Sonny’s name. Sonny’s feeling “touched” (90) the narrator believes that the respect from the audience could have made Sonny cry. Before the musicians start to play, Creole makes “certain that all his chickens were in the coop, and then he jumped and struck the fiddle” (91).
The stage now has a different aura about it. As the music maker is dealing with the “roar rising from the void and imposing order” (91) the other band members are working hard to play together on one accord. Creole was communicating with Sonny through the music. He was assuring Sonny that “deep water and drowning were not the same thing” (90) he told Sonny that he had been there and needed Sonny to trust him.
Collectedly, the band musicians listen and responds to the music maker. They’re in tune with each other comes without thinking because of the torment and struggle they have endured.The narrator describes the rest of the story using music to describe his personal feelings and what he believes Sonny is feeling as he “speaks for himself” (92) through the music as he communicates with the rest of the band. This silent dialog between the player’s differences with the submissive quietness compares to that of the old people describe throughout the story. The narrator notes: “He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air.
Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about” (92).As an alternative of searching for self-discovery from escaping the paths of the darkness, the band through their music is telling the audience how to “find ways” (92) to make them “listen” (92) in a new form.