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Analysis

Literary Devices in Sonny's Blues

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Jazz music symbolizes different things to different characters in this story. The narrator doesn't know anything about jazz. He associates it with a certain "element" of people, people he doesn't...

Setting

"Sonny's Blues" takes place in Harlem during the early 1950s. The city plays a pretty important role in the narrative, since part of the reason Sonny turns to drugs is to escape the feeling of bein...

Narrator Point of View

"Sonny's Blues" is told in the first person from the point of view of an unnamed narrator who, we find out, is Sonny's brother. The narrator in this story is an interesting figure. He's mostly tel...

Genre

As a genre, literary fiction depends a great deal on characters, and we think it's the characters that drive the story of "Sonny's Blues." It's true that the story is about music and drugs and fam...

Tone

Baldwin seems to feel a great deal of sympathy for Sonny. He doesn't paint him as a nameless, faceless drug addict but instead tries to get to the root of his problems. Take a look at this passag...

Writing Style

We don't mean poetic in the sense that the story rhymes or that it's structured in stanzas. We mean poetic in the sense that Baldwin's writing is lyrical and beautiful. Check out this passage:As...

What's Up With the Title?

This story has one of those nifty titles that does a lot and means a lot in just a couple of words. The phrase "Sonny's blues" doesn't appear until the very end of the story, when the narrator is...

What's Up With the Ending?

At the very end of the story, the narrator has come to watch Sonny play piano at a nightclub, and it seems that he finally sees how talented his brother is. But more importantly, he also seems to...

Tough-o-Meter

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...

Plot Analysis

The narrator reads in the newspaper about Sonny's arrest for using and selling heroin.This discovery sets off the action in the rest of the story and causes the narrator to reflect on his and Sonny...

Trivia

James Baldwin was a preacher from the ages of 14 to 17 (source).The song "Am I Blue?" that Sonny plays at the end of the story is an actual jazz song that's been covered by Billie Holiday, Ethel Wa...

Steaminess Rating

There is really no sex or anything sexual in this story. The closest we get is a prostitute who makes a very brief appearance as she watches a street-side revival, but she's just a casual observer...

Allusions

"The cup of trembling" (239) – a Biblical reference to the Book of Isaiah 51:22The Korean War (79) – The Korean War isn't mentioned specifically, but this would make sense in terms of the time...
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