Racism In Sonny's Blues By James Baldwin

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In the story, "Sonny's Blues," James Baldwin portrays Harlem as a place where people are no longer happy and have become trapped. Set after the depression and most likely during and/or after the second world war, Harlem was a time for African Americans to thrive in creative arts; but, it also gave way for poverty and a plethora of drug use. In "Sonny's Blues," the two brothers find their own ways to escape the despair of Harlem; but, through their liberation, they both ultimately complicate their relationship as brothers. Baldwin begins the story with the narrator going to work, as a school teacher, and reading news in the paper that thoroughly upsets him. The narrator at this time believes that he has escaped the entrapment of Harlem through…show more content…
There was an unspoken hate between them and he did not like the way Sonny carried himself or the people he was friends with. He blames this, and the way Sonny is living, on his music claiming, "his music seemed to be merely an excuse for the life he led" (83). The narrator did his best to mend his broken relationship with Sonny, but it only resulted in a fight and Sonny said that "he was dead as far as I [the narrator] was concerned" (83). The narrator was fearful that Sonny would be just like all the other musicians around Harlem and the surrounding cities. After the disagreement he did not talk to Sonny, even following the news his arrest, until after his little girl, Grace died. When Grace died, the narrator finally wrote Sonny and kept in touch as much as he could after that, inviting him to stay with him after he was released from prison. The narrator was scared that he was "simply bringing [Sonny] back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape" (74), by bringing him to his house; but, he felt an obligation to his mother to take care of Sonny like he promised to but failed. The strain of the argument and the tension of Sonny's arrest was obvious as Isabel is the only reason Sonny felt comfortable. The fact that Isabel and her family only endured Sonny and his music was only for his brother still bothered him and he would avoid being…show more content…
Through this conversation, the narrator gained respect and insight on Sonny's life in the times that he was not there. Sonny was cryptic in his speaking at first but eventually made it very clear to his brother and even said, "the reason I wanted to leave Harlem so bad was to get away from drugs" (89). The narrator does not have much to say, but ultimately blames all of this on the "vivid, killing streets of [their] childhood" (73), that neither of them had truly escaped. He once thought they both had, him by becoming a teacher and Sonny by simply not living in Harlem for years, but in this moment, he realizes that not much has really changed - they still faced those streets, the only difference now was that they knew what they inherit. Sonny convinced his brother to come watch him play - the narrator knowing he could not possibly say no. And even though Sonny had not played in years, the narrator claimed his "fingers filled the air with life, his life' (92), and the narrator began to feel at peace with his brother's decisions; realizing that music is what made him happy. Although Baldwin portrayed Harlem as this unescapable place, both brothers found their escape. They may not have been real escapes, but they at least felt free at some point, even though they were not together through hardships they both endured. The narrator never changes his view on Harlem, but his view on
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