Music in Society according to James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

Essay by canadaforever28High School, 10th grade June 2006

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In modern society, music uses many forms. Some use music for praising the Lord, and others use music as something that one can get down to. But mainly, people use music as an expression of who they are as a person; whether it be by what one plays or what one listens to, music is a major factor in determining who one is and their personality. In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," all of these examples are there. Music plays a major role in his story, which centers on the reunion of a common listener and his musician brother. The comparison between these two characters lead one to believe that there are some aspects of music that the musician understands more than his brother. According to Baldwin, music affects different people in different ways, and the narrator learns this throughout the story because the ways he sees music being expressed prepares him for his encounter with his brother.

The first example of music in the story comes from the simplest place. Baldwin begins his analysis of music in society by starting with the most basic form of it, a child who is simply whistling. "One boy was whistling a tune, at once very complicated and very simple, it seemed to be pouring out of him as though he were a bird, and it sounded very cool and moving through all that harsh, bright air, only just holding its own though all those other sounds" (22). The child presumably is just whistling to pass time and is not thinking about it that much. But Baldwin, instead of just dismissing it, which is what people would normally do, analyzes it, as one would do with a normal song. He finds that the boy's whistling can embody the same traits as the music we...