An Analysis of the Theme of Suffering in “Sonny's Blues” Essay

740 Words Feb 21st, 2011 3 Pages
An Analysis of the Theme of Suffering in “Sonny’s Blues”

The brief plot of “Sonny’s Blues” meticulously examines two adult brothers and their divergent approaches to coping with their depressing lives in the dilapidated, drug-ridden streets of Harlem. James Baldwin’s attempt at demonstrating his concern with families, roots, and identity is quite apparent, but the theme of suffering is most prominent. He expresses his thoughts on this subject through his distinctive and eloquent prose which accommodates an abundant use of rhetorical devices and symbols.

The largest and most noticeable devices are his allusions to biblical imagery. In one scene, the unnamed narrator describes the housing projects as “rocks in the middle of a boiling
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Such allusions can be attributed to the fact that Baldwin was a preacher previous to his writing career.

Another of these devices can be found in the flashbacks or anecdotes the narrator frequently experiences. These offer the reader an opportunity to understand or become closer to Sonny. This prepares us to sympathize and perhaps celebrate with Sonny as the story unfolds. Also embedded within the story are rhetorical questions and anaphora. In the conversation about unavoidable suffering in life, for example, the narrator says, “I wanted to talk about will power and how life could be – well, beautiful. I wanted to say that it was all within; but was it?” The repetition of the word “wanted” demonstrates an obvious tension within the older brother, a want to provide desperately needed answers, a want to shield from his sibling the true bitterness and unforgiving nature of life. The fact that they appear in rhetorical questions further develops the clear guilt the narrator feels.

One final, yet very loosely defined and very vital “rhetorical device,” which I feel has been utterly overlooked by many, is the purposeful act of failing to give the narrator a name. Baldwin’s doing so forces us, practically against our will, to become best friends, so to speak, with Sonny. It causes us to subconsciously overlook the narrator, despite his significant role, and take pity in the plight of Sonny -- the true

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