Sonny's Blues

Major themes

  • Suffering - One of the most important aspects of the short story is how Sonny and his brother endure suffering. This reveals how different they are and the reason Sonny’s brother cannot understand him. While Sonny feels more intensely all the hardships in his life, his brother keeps his feelings locked in. Most importantly, the short story focuses on the sufferings of black people in America.
  • Artistic expression - Baldwin believed in art as a powerful means to ease or relieve one’s suffering. It is only through music, by playing jazz, that Sonny is able to externalize his pain and also help his brother to face his own issues.
  • Racism and segregation - Racism is a recurrent theme in Baldwin’s work. In the short story, much of Sonny’s blues result from the conditions African Americans live in. Although Baldwin only presents one clear example of racism, the entire story reveals a separation made by society between blacks and whites. In spite of being an algebra teacher, Sonny’s brother has to continue living in Harlem and cope with the poverty and violence existent in the neighborhood. In this manner we can see that his efforts to have a better lifestyle were not successful. Also Baldwin often challenges the social stigma of African American lifestyles.

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