The Short Story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

Pages: 2
Words: 603


To introduce the paper, it is feasible to state that in his short story Sonny’s Blues, author James Baldwin tells the story of African American musician with addiction problems. The author chooses a narrator complete Sonny’s opposition: his nameless brother, who works as a math teacher, follows the rules and struggles to understand his passion for music. It is tough to describe music with words, but Baldwin uses plot structure and deep symbolism to create an allusion to a musical composition, which is never straightforward and linear. Although linear storytelling is more common for readers, the a-chronological narration in Sonny’s Blues brings a deeper understanding of the characters’ emotions and motivations in present situations, laying out their background through flashbacks.

Storytelling in Sonny’s Blues

Concerning narration as a music, the most important events of the plot happen against the backdrop of music. For the narrator, a non-musician, it is tough to understand and accept the motivation of a person who lives with music. The narrator lives by the book and tries to do everything in his life right, so the creativity of sound is hard for him. He tells the story of his brother, Sonny, and undergoes a journey from feeling pity and frustration for him to some understanding and empathy. Jazz and blues music genres are an essential part of African American culture, and the author shows the development of the characters through relation to music (Yates-Richard 407). Out-of-order narration forces a reader to treat the story as a literary creation and as a musical one. The storytelling of Sonny’s Blues is like a jazz tune with a rhythmic base but complicated with many components.

Considering emotional estrangement through the flashbacks, in most of the flashbacks in the story, the reader already knows the outcome. The narrator reflects on the matters with purposeful detachment. Using the technic of changing the timeline, the author provides a less emotional and more analytical approach to the past situations (Belilgne). At the same time, until almost the end of the story, the narrator struggles with internal conflicts, and his refusal to accept and feel emotions about his past is the reason for it. Therefore, an emotional and narrative climax usually happens after a flashback, linking the past and present.

Highlighting reflection on the past, Baldwin emphasizes the impact of reading and perception of the information on people’s life. With flashbacks, the author brings up the importance of reflection. Still, it is crucial not only to self-reflect but also to pay attention to the background of others, especially outcasts, outsiders, and minorities (Belilgne). Sonny’s Blues uses time shifts in the storyline to demonstrate a complex combination of forming factors behind every decision. In one of the flashbacks, the brothers’ mother explains how every person can end up with an addiction or on the outskirts of society, no matter how good they were as kids (Baldwin). After reading his brother’s story in the paper, the narrator actively reflects and thinks about his life, which is what the author expects from the readers.


To summarize, the story shows the reader a significant shift in the narrator’s social and cultural views at the end of the story. He was distancing himself from his peers and his background. Therefore, he had many conflicting opinions and could not understand himself. To come to peace of mind, characters had to reclaim their history and accept the past as it is. The a-chronological narration in Sonny’s Blues shows how past influences present life and shapes present decisions. In addition, the complexity of the storytelling references music and its cultural impact on society.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues. Klett English editions. Klett Sprachen, 2009.

Belilgne, Maleda. “Sonic Living: Space and the Speculative in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”.” James Baldwin Review, vol. 4 no. 1, 2018, pp. 45-62. Web.

Yates-Richard, Meina. “Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature by Nicole Brittingham Furlonge.” African American Review, vol. 52 no. 4, 2019, pp. 406-408. Web.