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Analysis

Tough-O-Meter

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(4) Base Camp

In some ways, "Sonny's Blues" is a pretty straightforward story. It's about family struggles, drug addiction, and music. But there are some other themes that are pretty easy to miss if you're not familiar with James Baldwin's larger body of work and the issues he focused on in his writing. For example, the biblical reference to the cup of trembling at the end of the story isn't something most of us would look for if we didn't know that Baldwin was a preacher himself at one point and that he struggled with his religious identity for much of his life. And if we're not familiar with the difference between Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker's music, we might not get why Sonny is so upset when his brother lumps them together. This isn't to say that we can't still get something rich and meaningful from the story if we don't know this stuff, but it does make mean that we could miss some things. That's why "Sonny's Blues" is a little tougher than it might seem on the surface.

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