Music In Sonny's Blues

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Introduction
First published in 1957, Sonny’s Blues written by James Baldwin is a prose of two brothers. Sonny, the younger one, is a rebellious jazz musician who turns out to be a drug abuser, while the narrator, the elder brother, is a conservative mathematics teacher in Harlem. He, the narrator, refuses to understand Sonny whose life is distorted by imprisonment. In this way, Baldwin developed the major topic of music, the cornerstone of African American culture, alongside with the themes of brotherhood and salvation.

How music develops the plot of the story
Music is a leitmotif in Sonny’s Blues, which reflects and creates a new structure of music and drama (Bribitzer-Stull, 2015). It evolves to construct the story line, for instance,
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The narrator attempts to reconsider his relationship with Sonny in a different way due to this occasional musical performance. He starts to liberate his isolation imposed on his younger brother and understand his suffering when Sonny confesses his heroin abuse: “it can come again” (p.144).

Musical performance in the last scene: why is it important?
The salvation of brothers is most distinctive when Baldwin embeds the scene of Sonny playing the piano at the last part of the story, the climax among all. In this scene, the narrator is invited to watch Sonny’s musical performance at a nightclub, and eventually learns that redemption can be done through music as Sonny’s piano performance has a healing effect on his soul. He finally acknowledges and appreciates the beauty of Sonny’s music which he used to look down upon:

“It was very beautiful because it wasn’t hurried and it was no longer a lament. I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. 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.”
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“Tale” can be interpreted as a story that is difficult to believe. Frankly, it is hard to believe that the music of destruction is capable of salvaging people’s broken souls. Moreover, this prose itself is a sort of tale beginning with the brothers’ suffering, followed by an open-hearted communication and ended in mutual understanding and redemption, just as the nature of bebop. Besides, Baldwin perfectly blends the musical element of “rhythm” with the story line. As the major story plot in the prose, the steady life of narrator and free life of Sonny are the representations of the steady bass clef and boogied treble clef respectively in piano blues (Harrison, 2013). Altogether, these two clefs compose a tune of a piece of piano music, just as the plot of the story.

Conclusion
Sound is inescapable. As a type of sound, music is perfectly infiltrated and combined with a well-constructed story plot prompted by brotherhood and redemption. In this way, Baldwin successfully portraits the new form of jazz, the minority music in the 50s in America alongside with the protagonists’ internal struggles and evolvements.
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