Culture And Identity Critical Thinking Samples
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Sonny Blues is a story where the characters live in a world with little or no inherent meaning. The characters’ lives are encumbered by racism and questions of self-identity. Baldwin depicts a world where human suffering is considered the norm rather than the exception. The characters must survive not only in this absurd world but also in a society that tolerates racism. Sonny Blues vividly describes the angst suffering of African-Americans; they live in deprived human conditions and abject poverty. To describe the suffering of the African Americans, Baldwin employs darkness and anxiety as metaphors to illustrate the horrors that the characters go through.
Sonny Blues is a classic example of nature and nature in play. Sonny grows up in a society where the culture of drug abuse and violence is rife. At this time, the government was waging a war on all the drug users and peddlers “and now, even though he was a grown-up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corners, was always high and raggy” (124). At the same time, his father was a drunkard giving Sonny a dark past that he struggles to overcome. Sonny and the narrator grow up in a dysfunctional family with a continued chain of disagreement between the mother and the father “Safe! My father grunted, whenever Mama suggested trying to move to a neighborhood which might be safer for children. – Safe, hell! Ain’t no place safe for kids, nor nobody” (130). The father acts tough in order to appear rough and in charge. Born in a culture of African-Americans, he is a Jazz music player. He was also born in a time when the society accepted racism as the normal order of life. He finds difficult to overcome the feelings of inferiority and results to drug abuse.
The narrator argues that fury and rage in the people lives is caused by the limited opportunities of self-development in the African American communities [these boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush in their heads bumped abruptly against low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage.” (123). Harlem is encompassed by rage and fury. Jazz music provides an exit point where they can release their fury. One of the examples of tough life
The characters in sonny are trapped in the cauldron of cultural and personal identity crisis. In an attempt to break free from one barrier, they encounter another barrier of equally destructive force. They are trapped both physically and psychologically. Sonny is imprisoned both by the state and by drug abuse. The narrator is trapped within his own self. He was unable to escape Harlem like is brother but the death of the narrators daughter gives the narrator the emotional change that he needs to express himself.
Growing up in the post war Harlem adversely affects Sonny and the Narrator. Sonny is unable to finish his education. They grew up in a troubled environment. Their father and mother used to fight regularly and for that reason, they were separated from each other. The narrator explains a time when he saw his brother being ran over by a car full of white kids who did not even stop to assist him “he heard white man shouting, and the car kept on a-going and it ain’t stopped till this day” (132). Such an experience traumatized the narrator and completely changed his view on racial relationships. The narrator joined the army and Sonny joined the Navy. After the war used to meet regularly. They would disagree ad argue on minor issues and because of that disagreement, they would stay apart from each other for a long time. At some point, Sonny tells the narrator that he wished that he were dead. Finally, the narrator decides to become his brother’s keeper “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny” (133). He decides to look for Sonny. At this time, Sonny is a jazz musician and the narrator helps him as he struggles to make a living out of jazz music.
The reader is only able to gauge Sonny’s personality through the narrator’s eyes. Sonny is an introvert and spends a lot of time introspecting. He finds difficult in expressing his innermost feelings and that is supported by the fact that he did not inform his family that he was playing jazz while he was in college. The family only found out this fact after they started receiving truancy letters. The narrator thinks that Sonny is wild but not as crazy as he appears in the text. His personality is trapped in a prison of drug abuse, which eventually leads him to prison. Sonny is passionate about Jazz music and the Passion drives him to become a full time Jazz musician “I want to play with – jazz musicians. He stopped. – I want to play jazz, he said” (134).
The narrator is a little bit more successful than his brother is. The narrator has a wife and children. He works as an algebra teacher at Harlem. The narrator is constantly struggling with the feelings of insecurity and bitterness. The narrator decides to avoid his problems by not allowing problems to get at arm’s length. The narrator is constantly torn by emotions and he is unable to speak out his emotions. The narrator’s self-identity is revealed by his knowledge that he needs to take care of his brother and the inability to accept that his brother has the capacity to change
Music acts as a pathway to redemption for Sonny. His passion for Jazz music makes him a musician. Now, people do not understand that music can be a source of a living. “Well, you may think it’s funny now, baby, but it’s not going to be so funny when you have to make your living at it, let me tell you that” (134). Sonny’s relatives are appalled when they are informed that he wants to become a Jazz musician and play the piano. Jazz music is connected with drugs because those who play jazz also double up as drug peddlers. The narrator finds out that Sonny is revered as a jazz musician in Greenwich. When the narrator hears Sonny play for the first time, he is enthralled by the music and he understands that Sonny turned suffering at Harlem into something worthwhile. Although the upbringing of Sonny and the narrator point to the fact that life was akin to suffering, Sonny makes charts a way out of the suffering and social disillusionment through Jazz music. In the end he becomes a revered musician whom the narrator is proud of. The two brothers are set free from the absurd world of meaningless to a life they can associate with.
Baldwin, James. Sonny's Blues. New York: Penguine Books, 1995. print.
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