Conformism In Sonny's Blues

1152 Words 5 Pages
The story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is about differences, understanding and most importantly music. In the story, the unnamed narrator and his brother Sonny struggle to understand each other, which stems from the immense differences in how they live and view life. This story takes place in the 1950’s, which is shortly after the Harlem Renaissance, which is labeled as the “literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that kindled a new black cultural identity” ( At the time, Jazz was exploding in popularity and is one of the main aspects of the story. While it may appear that the use of Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker (Bird) in the story is just because of their popularity at the time. These artist’s different styles …show more content…
Unlike his brother, Sonny is not content with working a typical job and living in Harlem for the rest of his life. Sonny wants to be free of the stereotypes of his race and wants to get away from Harlem. Sonny also has a very addictive personality which causes him to have issues with drugs. Sonny’s life choices also cause a lot of misunderstanding between him and his brother. Sonny’s dream is to be a great Jazz musician. When Sonny initially tells his brother that he wants to be a musician, His brother asks if he wants to be like Louis Armstrong. Sonny becomes very upset and states that "I'm not talking about none of that old-time, down home crap.”(QUOTE) as Sonny believes that Louis Armstrong is old fashioned and caters his music to be accepted by white people. Sonny wants to be a Jazz musician like Charlie “Bird” Parker. Charlie Parker was very much like Sonny in regards to how he thought about music and lived his life. It is very easy to see why Sonny idolized Parker so much as the reader can draw parallels to both men. Charlie Parker was the one of the inventors of the Jazz style called “BeBop”. Bebop was a style that was more modern and considered “a more private form of expression”(scaruff) as opposed to other forms of Jazz at the time. It was the type of “music to listen to, as opposed to dance to” which was radically different than Louis Armstrong’s Jazz. Charlier Parker was able to …show more content…
The very music the narrator is unsure of, opens his eyes to Sonny’s true issues. When the narrator listens to Sonny play at the end of the story, all this misunderstanding vanishes. Sonny puts all of him in his music. The narrator states listening to his brother play he has “heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth.”(QUOTE) The narrator is able to see Sonny lose himself in the music and understand why it is so important. Charlie Bird had a quote that embodies this moment in the story perfectly, that was “Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you.”(CHARLIE PARKER) which is exactly what Sonny does with his piano.

The heavy use of Jazz music by James Baldwin in the story Sonny’s Blues is shown to have a true purpose in the story. By looking at Jazz music during this period, as well as the mentioned artists Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. The reader can gain a better understanding of the characters along with the hardships that were faced during this time period. It also makes the story much more engaging as this is a story that could have been based on real life

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