The narrator’s attitude toward jazz is one of ambivalence, but the attentive reader will understand that it is a form of wilful ambivalence in that the narrator has seemingly made a quiet but definite break with anything that might be considered “pop” culture and more specifically, black culture or African American culture. The theme of music is a very important theme in the story because it, loosely, represents the human soul.
Sonny, the musician and drug-addict, eventually expresses a deep and personal odyssey through the idiom of jazz and the narrator, during the story’s climax is able to embrace this “new” form of expression, and in doing so, embraces not only the aspects of suffering which his brother painfully reminded him of and from which he tried to hide, but to these same aspects of wounding and “blues” which exist in the narrator himself.
The parallel between the story’s theme and the central symbol of music that shapes the story is that the narrator’s awareness that the same racial and cultural aspects of American society that have contributed to Sonny’s blues have also inspired, within himself, a blues. This realization becomes clear subtly over the course of the story the same way that a musical theme develops over the course of a song, especially an improvised (or partially improvised) song. The closing lines of the story state the story’s theme in nearly explicit terms: Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life.
But that life contained so many others[… ] beautiful because it wasn’t hurried and it was no longer a lament” (Sonny’s Blues). By embracing jazz, the narrator embraces his brother’s soul and his own heritage and finds not only a blues but a repressed joy as well. 2. What role do social mobility and class play in the struggle between the narrator and Sonny? A key role due primarily to the narrator, who teaches math, viewing himself as “normal” as well-adjusted while all the while experiencing and inner-turmoil of how to relate to his troublesome brother. Social mobility plays the central role of irony in the story.
it is a relatively simple premise: that the character who has embraced “normal” society views the character who has not as “fringe” as “affected” and as a troublemaker, but in actuality, it is the “normal” character who has become troubled and affected. The entire ironic premise of the story is predicated on the idea that the narrator may be an “Uncle Tom” whereas his brother, Sonny, is an outsider, but it is actually the case that the narrator is not an Uncle Tom, but is simply pursuing his soul just as his brother is not an outsider, by design, but an outsider because he is a true artist.
3. What in the family’s history act as an ominous prophesy in the futures of the characters? The narrator’s father failed to protect his own brother from dying. Because of this, the narrator’s mother instills within the narrator a deep sense of obligation to his younger brother. The idea is that the narrator, even at his most estranged from Sonny, still feels an obligation to him, and to his mother due to the events of his father’s past.
In this way, the story shows how family history adn oral history can play as large a role in the culturization of African Americans as the so-called establishment. In the long run, the narrator’s ties to the establishment give out long before his sense of obligation to his family. 4. How does Harlem-its streets, its people-act as background for this story? Harlem is a microcosm of African American culture and it is portrayed positively in the story although this positivism may not be obvious to some readers on their first reading of the story.
The use of the Harlem setting as a counterpoint “white” society is way of showing the reader that the same divisions between one type of culture and the other exist within the narrator himself; that is his crisis. By setting the story in Harlem, it is tantamount to setting the narrator in a direct confrontation with his own culture, a culture which he seemingly does not value or truly understand and one which is in many ways set against the culture he tries to be a part of on a daily basis. 5. The climax of this story involves music and listening to music.
How well does Baldwin convey in words what is essentially an aural and non-intellectual experience? Baldwin succeeds with great ability because of his method of venturing into an internal monologue during the climax. By using this technique, he allows the reader to follow thought by thought with the narrator’s developing understanding of his brother’s “soul” as it speaks to him through the music. Consequently, the reader reaches the fruition of that understanding and that moment of connection at the same time as the narrator, so the harmony of realization is, in itself, like music.
6. In the Bible, Cain asks the Lord, `Am I my brothers keeper? ` How does this story imply an answer? “Sonny’s Blues” makes an ironic turn on this Biblical phrase. In other words, though the narrator believes that he must function as Sonny’s “keeper” because Sonny is troubled and also because of his mother’s geas, in actuality, the narrator is no less troubled than Sonny and, in fact, may be less gifted and therefore more prone to losing his own self-identity.
Both Sonny’s drug and legal problems and the narrator’s identity crises present real-world and profound obstacles which have arisen at least partially due to cultural factors of race and social standing. In the final analysis, the story demonstrates that each person is each person’s “keeper” on an equal footing although sometimes immediate circumstances and prejudices allow one person to put himself “above” another in relation to altruism or helping out one’s “brother. ”
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