The Role of Jazz Music in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

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CJ Van Antwerp

Dr. Sarah Nestor

ENG 153

2 October 2014

The Role of Jazz Music in Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

James Baldwin wrote the story "Sonny's Blues" in 1957. The story is about the reconciliation of two estranged brothers after one gets arrested for using and selling heroin. After their mother's death, Sonny was to be taken care of by his older brother, who had no idea how to take care of him. Sonny and his older brother (who is the narrator and shall henceforth be referred to as N) struggle with connecting since they both see the world so differently. Jazz music, while seeming to be the thing that starts to tear them apart, ultimately proves to be the bridge that spans the gap between the brothers.

Sonny's desire to become a jazz musician did not sit well with N. Before the death of Sonny and N's mother, she charges N with taking care of his younger brother, " 'You got to hold on to your brother,' she said, 'and don't let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him.

You going to be evil with him many a time. But don't you forget what I told you, you hear?'" (Baldwin 573). When Sonny and N are talking after their Mother's funeral, Sonny reveals to his brother that he wants to become a jazz musician. N doesn't understand why Sonny would want to make his living in such a non-traditional way. N knows next to nothing about Jazz and can't see that it means so much more to the serious musician than a bunch of men sitting and fooling around on stage (enotes). N's reaction of "'Are you serious?'" (Baldwin 575) deeply...