Sonny's Blues

From LitWiki
“Sonny’s Blues”
AuthorJames Baldwin
CountryUnited States
Published inPartisan Review
Publication date1957

“Sonny’s Blues” is a 1957 short story by James Baldwin first published in Partisan Review.


The story begins with the unnamed narrator on his way to work as a math teacher and opening up a newspaper finding out his brother, Sonny had been arrested for using and selling heroin. The whole day his mind was set on the disturbing news. When his class was over, a friend of Sonny's came through the schoolyard to talk to the narrator about the situation and that he felt responsible for getting sonny hooked. After the narrator's daughter died of polio, he felt the need to write Sonny. When sonny got out of jail he had to live with the narrator's wife Isabel's parents so that he could go to school and have access to a piano. Meanwhile, Sonny did not go to school, he started doing acid.After that he ran off to the navy and came back. When he came back, him and the narrator got into an argument about his suspicion of drug use. After the intense argument,the narrator felt the need to figure out why sonny acts a certain way about jazz.So he goes to where Sonny plays the piano and he actually likes it. Then he sends sonny a drink of alcoholic scotch and milk which showed he was satisfied.


Narrator: He is a math teacher and he is 7 years older than Sonny. The narrator goes through quandaries by attempting to navigate Sonny's future in the right direction, failing inevitably due to the lack of commitment.

Sonny: He is the narrator's brother, jazz musician, and heroin addict who lived in New York. He died when he got hit by a car while walking home from a concert with the narrator’s father.

Isabel: The wife of the narrator. She is a kind and understanding person and happy to take sonny into their family, despite his troubles.

Grace: The narrator's daughter who died of polio at the age of two.

Creole: Creole is the leader of the band sonny plays with at the jazz club.

The narrator's uncle: He was killed at a young age when a car of drunken white men ran him over. The death broke the narrator's father's heart.

The narrator's Mother: She is not alive in the story. She is wise and caring, dies when the narrator is away at war.

The narrator's Father: He is also not alive and he is a hard man whose brother's death causes him immense grief.

Sonny's Friend: He is a heroin addict who visits the narrator to tell him what happened to Sonny. He is unnamed whose brief appearance in the short story represents the innumerable young guys in Harlem who are addicted to drugs.

Major themes

One of the major themes is power of music, Sonny compares music's affective power to that of heroin. It makes him feel, "warm and cool at the same time" distant, sure and in control.[1]

A theme presented in the story is brotherly division[2]. The symbology of the death of Grace plays an essential role in both the narrator and Sonny’s relationship. Sonny’s fall from grace depicts his morality and corroded decisions leading to an isolated life.[3] A fall from grace always has consequences in Christianity. The family is sorrowed over the death of the narrator’s daughter, leading to disintegration of grace within the brothers, causing them to drift apart and threatens to destroy their relationship.[4]

Suffering is another theme for "Sonny's Blue". Suffering is seen constantly through out the story. Sonny's drug addiction[5], death of narrator's daughter[6], racism[7], and murder of the narrator's uncle[8] shows suffering. Sonny's music came from the same dark experiences and his struggle to become a singer is not that easy.[9]

Development history

Publication history

Explanation of the Story’s Title

The title of the story "Sonny's Blues” explains more about the story than it puts on even though his brother is the narrator, the character Sonny, still seems to have the story centered around him. As the book begins, we get to know just what Sonny's "blues" or woes are. Going into the second paragraph the narrator describes his concern for his brother as " A great block of ice... settled in my belly ". [10] He further goes on to describe the block of ice to be expanding until it felt like his guts " were going to spill out" he "was going to choke scream". [10] The narrator goes on to talk about how Sonny was arrested in a raid for “peddling and using heroin”. [10]

Literary significance and reception

Awards and nominations

~lists awards the work received, and significant nominations, if applicable; include in reception if brief~



  1. Baldwin 2002, p. 94.
  2. Stone 2013, p. 1.
  3. Stone 2013, p. 2.
  4. Stone 2013, p. 3.
  5. Baldwin 2002, p. 80.
  6. Baldwin 2002, p. 82.
  7. Baldwin 2002, p. 79.
  8. Baldwin 2002, p. 86.
  9. Baldwin 2002, p. 88.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Baldwin, 2002 & p79.

Works Cited

See also: Annotated Bibliography

  • Baldwin, James (2002). "Sonny's Blues". In Sipiora, Phillip (ed.). Reading and Writing about Literature. pp. 79–99.
  • Kim, Eui Young (October 2013). "The Sociology of the Ghetto in James Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues'". The Explicator. 76 (3): 161–165.
  • Sipiora, Phillip, ed. (2002). Reading and Writing about Literature. Upper Saddle Creek, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Stone, Caitlin (October 2013). "Lost and Found: The Fall of Grace in 'Sonny's Blues'". The Explicator. 71 (4): 251–254.
  • Tracey, Steen C. (2015). "Sonny in the Dark: Jazzing the Blues Spirit and the Gospel truth in James Baldwin's 'Sonny's Blues'". The Explicator. 1 (0 (2015)).

External links

  • . . .