Essay on Symbolisms in the James Baldwin Sonny Blues Light and Darkness

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1181 words
Carnegie Mellon University
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James Baldwin Sonny Blues Light and Darkness is a story told in first person narrative. A narrator is a family man and an algebra teacher in a high school. The narrator shows worries because his brother was a drug abuse and drug trafficker. The thoughts of about Sonny occupy the minds of the narrator while he is at school. Sonnys father died of drunkenness when Sonny was just fifteen and now Sonny was jailed because of drugs. The narrators daughter dies of polio and he decided to contact his brother in prison. Later Sonny was released from jail and he invited his brother to club he plaid piano to his best. The essay constitutes of character analysis, themes and critical analysis.

Characters in the story

In the text, two main characters play an important role in the success of the story. The main characters are Sonny is a brother to the main character. In the entire story, the author did not mention the real names of Sonnys brother. However, Sonny brother has a family and he teaches algebra in high school. The author of the story sees Sonny through the eyes of his brother. The author gave Sonny an active role in the text where he is depicted as a musician, a drug addict, wild, and a criminal. Isabel is depicted as talkative and is sister in law to Sonny. Creole is musician and a bass player. Other characters mentioned in the story include Sonny's mother, father, uncle, and friend.



Sonny and his brother play an important role in carrying the theme of suffering. Sonny and his brother suffered, but they endured. Sonny was facing hardship in life and found himself in drug trafficking and drug abuse. Sonny suffered in prison because of criminal activities. The text is about the sufferings of the black people in the U.S.

Racism and segregation

The black Americans were suffering because of racism and segragation. The black people in America live in isolation from the white. For example, Sonnys brother ought to live in a better place because he is a high school teacher. However, due the racism and segregation, he continues living in Harlem a place with many criminal activities and poverty. There is evidence of social stigma where the community did not recognize Sonny brother despite his efforts to succeed in life.

Artistic expression

In the text, Baldwin used art as a weapon to fight suffering. For example, Sonny was fighting for better living through the love for jazz, and music. Art helped Sonny to express his pain and to educate his brother on his fight for light.


Light and darkness in the text symbolizes pain that results from the reality of life. It also symbolizes the gains of Sonny and his brother after enduring sufferings. In the streets of Harlem, there are challenges and threats to peaceful human life. For example, the narrator tells about many criminal activities in Harlem and drug abuse. Sonny in the story represents the drug addicts in the streets of Harlem and criminals dealing drug trafficking and contradicting with the laws in the country. The poverty in the streets of Harlem is also the pushing force on the adolescences to engage in drugs to help them escape from the reality of life in the streets. Sonny believes that abusing heroin will help him unleash his talent in music. As a result, the superstitions landed him in the hands of the law. The life in prison, the many crimes in the streets of Harlem and the criminal activities involving the adolescents symbolizes the darkness.

Another use of symbolism regards the life of Sonny. The trembling cup symbolizes the life of Sonny, which was complicated from the eyes of the narrator. In the Bible, the term, the cup of trembling has been used to symbolize the fear of plague and the sufferings that result from the effects of the plague. For this reason, when Sonny drinks from a trembling cup, it is symbol of suffering in his life.

In page 349 of the text, the narrator says I stared at it in the swinging light of the subway car, an in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside (Baldwin, 349). The darkness in the statement symbolizes the issues such as portrayal of the community, social and economic barriers that have trapped the community in Harlem. Considering the lives of the people in Harlem, it is true that darkness has overtaken the residents of Harlem. For example, the narrator is worried that Sonnys drug habits are dangerous to his students. He also thinks that Sonny may influence his kids into drug abuse and ruin their future.

Critical analysis

The academic essay by Catherine Sustana is convincing because of handling important issues in the text. Catherines analysis depicts a clear understanding of the text and the actual unfolding of the activities in the narratives. According to Catherine, the light symbolizes the physical activities and the invisible. For example, the desire in Sonny is invisible yet it is symbolic. Sonny has an intention to advance in music and earn a living from the art. His dream pushes him to the drug abuse with hope to become creative and increase his knowledge. Sonnys dream was good though it was against the laws and thus he was jailed because of drug abuse. In this case, the desire is light but the result is darkness, which in this case is life in the prison. Catherine analyses the view of the narrator and makes conclusions regarding the actual meaning of light and darkness (Reilly, 200). She quotes from the text, All they really knew were two darkness, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies which hand blinded them to that other darkness and in which they were at any other time and more alone(Baldwin, 410). In the statement, the reader understands the darkness that is taking away the future of the boys and the boys do not realize the opportunities they will lose from their involvement in the drugs and criminal activities. The statement symbolizes the hopelessness in the narrator to reclaim the lost ambitions in the boys because of the environment they live.

In conclusion, symbolism is apparent in the various parts of the text. For example, the narrator ha used drug abuse and, criminal activities in the streets of Harlem symbols of darkness. On the other hand, light represents Sonnys struggles to live a better life as a musician. The use of trembling cup symbolizes troubles in the lives of Sonny. Academic analysis of the author by Catherine brings a clear image of the drama in the text. Catherine shades some light on the meanings of light and darkness as used in the text. Reading the works of Catherine gives the true picture and the implication of the story.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny's blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.

Reilly, John M. "" Sonny's Blues": James Baldwin's Image of Black Community." Negro American Literature Forum. Vol. 4. No. 2. St. Louis University, 1970.

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