Good Example Of “Sonny’s Blues” And “The Weary Blues” Comparison Literature Review
The decades following the Civil War did not bring the equal status among races many had hoped for within the African American community. Poverty and racism were rampant throughout the country and this comes out in much of the literature throughout that era. Two of these pieces are “Sonny’s Blues” and “The Weary Blues.” These two works of literature dwell on the themes of discrimination, racism, and the power of music to overcome these obstacles. Therefore, “Sonny’s Blues” and “The Weary Blues” each speak to how music can be a powerful escape to the injustice and suffering African Americans saw and lived around daily.
“Sonny’s Blues” was written in 1957 by James Baldwin, and is a short story about two brothers living in the South and how they dealt with the struggles of being raised there. The story is written in first person, so the narrator is the brother to Sonny. It begins with a story about how Sonny was busted for using heroin, and how this was a common challenge for those living in New York. The narrator is a teacher in Harlem, and after receiving word about Sonny and his struggles with heroin, he considers why this is an issue with young boys in this area. Baldwin writes, “All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded the to that other darkness and more alone (Baldwin 1957).” Baldwin portrays a negative and depressing culture surrounding growing up in Harlem, and struggles with the justification of drug use to escape the depravity that lies before them. Sonny was using drugs to escape, and the narrator cannot stop thinking about Sonny and what to do about this scenario.
The narrator decides to write Sonny a letter, and because of this, he starts taking more interest into Sonny’s life. The rest of the short story describes the encounters between the two brothers, and provides more background into why things look so dark for those in Harlem. Baldwin describes one instance of racism within the story, when he describes how the uncle of Sonny was run over by white drunk kids, and believes it was likely on purpose. Baldwin also describes many instances of suffering and how best to deal with this. The narrator’s family situation was a mess, and there was also rampant drug use and poverty all throughout the neighborhood. The issue of suicide is brought up as a way to escape this suffering, but Baldwin proposes a better escape through the character of Sonny.
The escape from suffering and injustice, according to Baldwin, is the power of music. Sonny finds his escape through playing jazz, and although the narrator is initially critical of this, by the end of the story, he finds that music can make life worth living in the end. Baldwin ends his short story with this statement in relation to music, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it must always be heard it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness (Baldwin 1957).”
This idea of music being a great escape is also addressed in the poem “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes. Written in 1923, this poem echoes many of the same sentiments found in Baldwin’s short story. One commonality is the setting. Both the poem and story are referring to Harlem, as “Lenox Avenue” is a street in Harlem. The poem uses a lot of repetition, such as the phrase, “He did a lazy sway,” and “O Blues.” It speaks to how alone those who play the blues are, using the repeated phrase, “Ain’t got nobody” This echoes the sentiments found in Baldwin’s short story as well. The poem also references how music is the only thing people have in the world to put their troubles on and cope with the situation in Harlem. The poem ends with the words, “The singer stopped playing and went to bed while the weary blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead (Hughes 1923).”
The reason the poem ends this way is to show the lasting power music had to help deal with problems. While the poem ends on a somewhat depressing note as it references death, the larger goal is to show the power of music, especially the blues. The blues and jazz became distinct features of African American culture, especially in Harlem. These two writings speak to why this occurred in light of the societal struggles surrounding African Americans during the early 21st century (“The Weary Blues”).
In conclusion, “Sonny’s Blues” and “The Weary Blues” each show the power of music in a difficult society. It brought escape and a beacon of light into the world, where there was very little hope. Therefore, these two writings echo the sentiments of many African American living before more civil rights reforms, and how they were able to stay somewhat hopeful in a world full of injustice. Music fueled them through these hardships.
Baldwin, James Sonny’s Blues Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing Twelfth Edition pgs 58-78
Hughes, Langston The Weary Blues. <english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g l/hughes/weary.htm>
""The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes." UC Davis. Web. 5 Mar. 2015. <http://cai.ucdavis.edu/uccp/workingweary.html>.
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