Symbolism in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
In “Sonny’s Blues,” light and dark symbolize the human struggle between good and evil. Symbols in “Sonny’s Blues” frequently conflict: for instance, ice symbolizes fear and dread juxtaposed against the music, which provides warmth and an escape to Sonny, the story’s protagonist. At large, there is a light-darkness dichotomy, which provides an insight into the metaphysical realm of Sonny’s soul throughout the narrative. While jazz is foreign to the storyteller initially, it links the two brothers at the end of the story. Sonny’s struggle to make the right choices between creating music over drug addiction and misery is represented as light shining through the dark, and the brotherly connection is similarly shown. This essay will elaborate on each symbol with specific examples from the text.
Darkness penetrates the narrative early on; it seeps through the windows of the housing projects, where Sonny and the narrator both grew up. The author portrays the housing projects in Harlem as self-destructive, void of personality places, where people imitate life rather than live it. For instance, when the brothers move through the streets that gradually “darken with dark people,” the anxiety closes in on the narrator (Baldwin 9). The darkness of the housing projects introduces Sonny’s environment, preparing for the stark contrast with the brightness of the music. On the other hand, the light represents all the positive and hopeful elements of Sonny’s life. It appears in different forms in the narrative – as moonlight, as a spotlight on the stage, as the lamp in the projects’ apartment. Baldwin’s use of contrasting symbols, such as the housing projects, the jazz music, the coldness of the ice, and light and darkness, emphasizes Sonny’s battle for a better life.
Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues and Other Stories. Penguin, 1995.