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Start Date

April 2021

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Department

English

Faculty Mentor

Eve Raimon, PhD

Keywords

James Baldwin, Sonny's Blues, literary analysis

Abstract

This oral presentation focuses on a critical analysis of the story “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin. "Sonny's Blues" follows an anonymous narrator as he navigates a troubled relationship with his younger brother Sonny. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the animosity between the two brothers is rooted in their family’s experiences of trauma, and that the narrator’s inability to accept Sonny’s choices stems in part from his own unresolved pain. While racism and classism are underlying themes of the narrative, at its root, “Sonny’s Blues'' is a story of a relationship, acceptance, and reconciliation. Both the narrator and Sonny are products of a shared traumatic history, but represent two different ways of responding to it. While exploring the importance of communication and emotional connection, Baldwin shows that past pain is always present in some way and cannot be denied. Rather, one must accept suffering as part of their identity and find ways to live with its presence. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin shows that to live well one must be willing to cope with all aspects of life: the joy, sorrow, and love found within ourselves, our experiences and our relationships. The story’s recurring themes of pain and healing, emotional estrangement and connection all speak to this perspective. By breaking down the walls between the two brothers and allowing them to begin a reconciliation, Baldwin shows that there is always hope and the potential for healing even within the encroaching darkness of the past.

TM2021_Davis-R_transcript.txt (10 kB)
Memory and Emotional Estrangement in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" - transcript

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Apr 30th, 12:00 AM

Memory and Emotional Estrangement in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

This oral presentation focuses on a critical analysis of the story “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin. "Sonny's Blues" follows an anonymous narrator as he navigates a troubled relationship with his younger brother Sonny. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that the animosity between the two brothers is rooted in their family’s experiences of trauma, and that the narrator’s inability to accept Sonny’s choices stems in part from his own unresolved pain. While racism and classism are underlying themes of the narrative, at its root, “Sonny’s Blues'' is a story of a relationship, acceptance, and reconciliation. Both the narrator and Sonny are products of a shared traumatic history, but represent two different ways of responding to it. While exploring the importance of communication and emotional connection, Baldwin shows that past pain is always present in some way and cannot be denied. Rather, one must accept suffering as part of their identity and find ways to live with its presence. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin shows that to live well one must be willing to cope with all aspects of life: the joy, sorrow, and love found within ourselves, our experiences and our relationships. The story’s recurring themes of pain and healing, emotional estrangement and connection all speak to this perspective. By breaking down the walls between the two brothers and allowing them to begin a reconciliation, Baldwin shows that there is always hope and the potential for healing even within the encroaching darkness of the past.

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