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Eng - 106 - Sonny Blues by James Baldwin

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Ayuna Harris

Ms. Glapion

ENG 106

10 April 2017                        /

Living in Harlem in the 1950s was a dangerous scenery. Everybody struggled growing up surrounded by drugs in the neighborhoods. The story “Sonny Blues” by James Baldwin gives you a background on the main character Sonny overcoming certain problems in Harlem. In the short story, it talks about the suffering he went through with his drug addiction and going to prison, his dreams on wanting to be a jazz musician and the relationship with between him and his family.

For Sonny and his brother, growing up in Harlem wasn’t easy. It was always rough for the two of them. Jazz was big in the 1950s in Harlem. After the death of their parents his brother wanted to know what was Sonny’s next move in life. He told him that he wanted to be a musician. At first he didn’t take him serious at all, just frowning and asking him questions over and over. Sonny wanted to play the piano, with jazz musicians. “He stopped. "I want to play jazz," he said. Well, the word had never before sounded as heavy, as real, as it sounded that afternoon in Sonny's mouth.” He was just trying to figure out why did he want to be in nightclubs all night watching drunk people just wobble and sway on the dance floor.  He wanted to know what his jazz music was going to be like. Charles “Bird” Parker was the musician Sonny looked up to. A founder of the new jazz that began to flourish in the 1940s. With him still being in school he felt as if Sonny wasn’t ready to do all of that in the music scene. Sonny instantly got defensive, standing up for himself and his dreams. “I was beginning to realize that I'd never seen him so upset before. With another part of my mind I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be one of those things kids go through and that I shouldn't make it seem important by pushing it too hard.” His brother felt like he was being overprotective of him and didn’t want him to just storm off and do what he wanted because nobody would listen to him and his ideas. His brother had arranged for Sonny to get fixed up at his wife Isabel’s place with her and her parents. Sonny wasn’t agreeing at all but he knew it would be best for him. The military came up in his future as well even trying to be a jazz musician he feels like he can do both. But his brother was only concerned about his schooling. Soon Sonny moved in with Isabel which she adored him. He was serious about his music with a piano they have at her place. Practicing every single day, studying jazz and listening to records. Isabel would say it was like living with sound.  

Things changed, Sonny stopped going to school and disappeared from the household. He had been spending his time staying in a white girls apartment in Greenwich Village, also with other musicians. He returned to the house which Isabel’s mother yelled and asked Sonny about his whereabouts when she seen the school board send a note in the mail. Isabel and her father had to deal with him next. “She says she just watched Sonny's face. She could tell, by watching him, what was happening with him. And what was happening was that they penetrated his cloud, they had reached him.”  Isabel knew that he didn’t appreciate the decent home that was given to him. Next few days he got all records and left for good. He finally went to the navy and sent a postcard home and it was from Greece, they knew he was still alive. Not seeing Sonny anymore until he came back to New York after the war had been over. Sonny and his brother were to the point where they would fight from time to time when they always ran into each other. Never seeing his brother none after that he decide to look him up and found out he was staying in the village. When he arrived, Sonny treated him like a stranger and his friends like they were his family. That broke him. “Then he stood up and he told me not to worry about him any more in life, that he was dead as far as I was concerned. Then he pushed me to the door and the other people looked on as though nothing were happening, and he slammed the door behind me.” That was the moment when he felt like Sonny just abandoned him from his life. They knew when he came back from war that he was dealing with things and started to use and sell heroin. Leaving the village his brother said to himself “You going to need me, baby, one of these cold, rainy days.”



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