Sonny's Blues: The Language Barrier Of Two Brothers

934 Words4 Pages
Samantha Heller
English 1102 13
The Language Barrier of Two Brothers
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, a story of two brothers who took two completely different paths in life. The older brother, both the narrator and a math teacher, who follows the rules, does not like the choice of Sonny, the jazz playing, and heroin addict younger brother. Most short story’s always have responses from others with opinions, James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues’ is no different. Keith Byerman literacy criticism, “Words and Music: Narrative Ambiguity in ‘Sonny’s Blues’”, is one of the many responses Baldwin received. I agree with Byerman that “Sonny’s Blues” is about the narrator’s lack of understanding towards Sonny, but would add that the story
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The narrator was a math teacher who tried to keep his student’s way from the harsh streets of Harlem, like he failed to do with his younger brother Sonny. Byerman focuses on the narrator more so than the Sonny. Byerman repeats again and again how the narrator is misreading his own story. This is partially due to the narrator having a more rationalistic language. The narrators every sentence, Byerman says is balanced, complete, and intelligent (Byerman, 367). Byerman seems to think that the narrator evades the story’s message with his rationalistic language. Byerman says the narrator “refracts his emotion”, when this is said he’s refereeing to his learning of his younger brothers imprisonment (Byerman, 368). The narrator has no time for mistakes, he sees in black and white, right or wrong. Sonny being arrested for drugs is not the right thing. This is a reason Byerman gives for the narrator’s lack of understanding towards his brother; Sonny messed up his life with drugs, and therefore he is baffled at Sonny’s choices, rendering him clueless.
Not only does Byerman, the author of “Words and Music: Narrative Ambiguity in ‘Sonny’s Blues’”, claim James Baldwin’s, “Sonny Blues”, focuses on the narrator’s lack of understanding of Sonny, but his dislike of the ending scene. Byerman hints that at the ending of “Sonny’s Blues” there was no validation
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Without the ending scene in the jazz club, we do not see the moment where the narrator finally understands his brother. Sonny talks through his jazz. The music allows for him to open up and express himself. At the end of “Sonny’s Blues” Sonny and the narrator go to a club and Sonny plays the piano. The narrator finally breaks through the language barrier. He gets to see his brother in what I would think was his ‘place to lean’. While Sonny is playing away, he is surrounded, the narrator hears random ‘amen’ from the fellow musicians. “Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life”, in this moment the narrator saw his brothers heartache, what he was going through, and would continue to go through until his life came to an end (Baldwin, 382). With his music Sonny was free, and so were those who cared to
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