Learning to Listen in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues Essay examples

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Learning to Listen in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues", the verb, to listen, is employed many times in varying contexts. This theme is developed throughout the story as the narrator learns to listen more closely to the aural stimuli (or sounds) which enter his ears. In order to understand the narrator's heightened degree of perception as it unfolds in "Sonny's Blues", it is necessary to begin with a thorough discussion of hearing and listening in general, and then as they relate to the story.

First, one must understand the distinction between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the reception of sound waves by the ears. This may happen unconsciously, as is usually the case with soft background
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It is important to realise that there is not a definitive distinction between each of these three degrees of concentration. A more accurate model would consist of "hearing" and "listening" located at opposite ends of a line. Between the two ends, there are an infinite number of degrees to which a person's conscious mind is engaged while accepting aural stimuli. However, it is appropriate for the purpose at hand to make a clear distinction between hearing and listening.

Towards the beginning of "Sonny's Blues", the narrator mentions that "One boy was whistling a tune...it sounded cool and moving..." (p. 48). While he takes time to briefly note the character of the melody as being "cool and moving", Baldwin does not elaborate at length: there is not description of the tone, no recognition of a melody, no notice of tempo, and no great significance attached to it. It may safely said that the narrator was hearing the whistled tune, but was not engaged in actively and deliberately listening to it. The same is true of the narrator when he observes that "she was humming an old church song." (p. 55) In the following passage, it is clear that the narrator has no intention of hearing the lad's story, and would not likely listen if forced to hear it: "`Don't tell ME your sad story.'" (p. 49)

It is clear that merely hearing what

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