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Music In The Sonys Blues Story English Literature Essay

The action of the story “Sony’s Blues” by James Baldwin takes place in New York’s Harlem, where the main characters face all possible social, economic also political problems: poverty, social injustice, drug addiction and other. The struggle between good and evil is drawn with the help of music that plays one of the most central roles for most of the characters helping not to lose their way, to achieve their goals.

Music for some Harlem people was one of the most crucial points that helped to survive, to remain decent in severe life circumstances. First, the scene at school during the break shows a reader a boy, Sony’s friend, who is whistling a tune not paying any attention at the noise, cursing, “mocking and insular “ and denigrating laughter of other students. This scene develops the idea that music can be the key to go through all the adverse things. Melody “… seemed to be pouring out of him as though he were a bird , and it sounded very cool and moving through all that harsh”. The school for this boy is the place where he has to struggle against bad influence, violence, sneering. Therefore, as the way to gain that struggle he has chosen music. By whistling different melodies, and tunes the boy is able to escape from the tough reality. Second, drawing the scene at the bar with a dancing barmaid, the author once more points the reader’s attention at the importance of music for Harlem people. The surroundings where the barmaid works is awful, she has to serve strange, extremely unhappy people ,’When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still-struggling woman beneath the battered face of the semi-whore’(25). The little girl, one of the bar visitors, seems to live in the desperate straits and is made to earn for living selling her body. Dancing according “ black and bouncy” music enables the barmaid not to live all these people’s lives as it would be impossible for her to live her own, therefore ’she danced her way from the juke box to her place behind the bar’, ’laughingly responded to something someone said to her, still keeping time to the music. ‘Furthermore, music used to play undoubtedly a great role in Sonny’s uncle’s life too. He was a good boy ‘he didn’t mean nobody no harm’(95). He worked hard in the mill. The only way to relax, to rest from the tough reality was performing with his guitar on Saturdays nights. Sony’s “ father's brother would sing, he had a fine voice, and play along with himself on his guitar.” Even at the moment he was killed by a car full of drunk white men he “was feeling kind of good, and he was whistling to himself, and he had his guitar slung over his shoulder.” In general, none of the described characters could imagine their life without music that is indeed significant for all of them.

Music also helps one of the main story characters Sony to try to get away from Harlem with its poverty, cruelty and plenty of appalling fates. Sony cannot stand the surroundings where he lives saying that he is “sick of the stink of these garbage cans”. The only way to escape from it, in his opinion, is becoming a musician. The first time when Sonny mentions that he wants to relate his future with music, is his conversation with the narrator after their mother’s funeral. Despite the fact that the narrator does not believe it is possible to live on the money from playing music, Sony is sure about his decision: “it's the only thing I want to do“. Later he adds, “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?”. (110). Although, the narrator is unsatisfied with Sonny’s decision, he is constrained to suggest to use Isabel's piano in order to persuade Sonny to finish school. This suggestion is the beginning of Sonny’s musical carrier. Since that moment Sonny realizes that music is much more than a simple hobby, it is a way of his life. “Sonny was so serious about his music and how, as soon as he came in from school, or wherever he had been when he was supposed to be at school, he went straight to that piano and stayed there until suppertime.” Watching the revival meeting Sonny once more comes to conclusion that music could be the way of escaping from his sufferings. The woman’s voice reminds that music might have a similar effect like heroin ‘her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes-when it’s in your veins’ (195). In the last scene at the night club where Sonny is playing, the narrator admits that music helped Sony to find what he had been searching for. “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did. Yet, there was no battle in his face now, I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth”.

Despite the fact that the narrator is not keen on music and does not believe music can be a serious source of living, he realizes that it is absolutely essential for some people to survive.

Unlike his brother Sony, the narrator leads an orderly way of life: has got a wife, two children and a good job as a teacher. Therefore, Sony’s lifestyle is absolutely strange to him. Sony’s reluctance to finish school and drug addiction resents the narrator. What is more, a wish to become a jazz musician, what could help him to leave Harlem, seems to the narrator a kind of irresponsibility as the narrator himself is not interested in music, “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it.” Due to this, it is not understandable that one can take up music “In order to keep from shaking to pieces.” However, step by step his younger brother proves that his choice is much more than a simple fancy. In fact, music enables the greatest dreams to come true. In the last scene at the club the narrator is already sure that his brother has made the right decision: “Here, I was in Sonny's world. Or, rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood.”

In conclusion, music in this story has got metaphorical meaning. The narrator believes that the only “right” music is classical what represents his point of view to life – orderly, classical way of life: family, well paid job. Sony’s favorite music – jazz, especially blues, represents his way of life with lots of improvisation: searches and discoveries, achievements and losses. “Blues” in the title reflects the period of Sony’s life that is extremely complicated, as blues used to be a kind of slave music that helped them to survive.


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