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Role of Suffering in the Story Of Sonny Blues

Suffering is an unavoidable aspect of a person’s life. This aspect is vital in shaping the person we become and how we interact with others in society. The narrator in James Baldwin’s story Sonny Blues, describes the inevitability of suffering and its resulting agony. Suffering begins early with the narrator’s experiences in school, where he was teased and ridiculed for his complexions and labeled an imbecile. This state of being then led to a lifetime of rejection as he was not accepted by anyone, including his own family. The first half of the story ends with the narrator saying this, “So don’t be surprised…you act so sweet….” (Baldwin 104). These are the raw emotions that a person who has suffered through tragedy would feel. The narrator is trying to speak these emotions into existence; he wants to warn people of what suffering feels like. In this essay the role of suffering in the story of Sonny Blues and its effects on the narrator will be discussed.

Suffering plays a significant role in shaping the person that others say we are. Suffering was a constant companion for the narrator throughout his childhood. Examples of this include being labeled an imbecile and being mocked at school for his complexions, never being accepted by his family. With his mother’s rejection, the narrator decides that he cannot live with her. He leaves his mother and goes back to his neighborhood where he had suffered so much ridicule. That night, the narrator meets a man named Sonny, who suffers from alcoholism and mental illness. Sonny is able to give the narrator some wisdom about suffering through life (Baldwin 105).

This is the most important passage in the story because it reveals the narrator’s feelings about suffering. When Sonny says, “You act so sweet….” The narrator feels that he has been let down by others. When he was young and being teased at school, his mother was not there to comfort him, she only saw him as another child out for her money. That night at Sonny’s house, when he saw what all eternity is like and experienced the complete lack of hope and despair, he felt that everyone had been lying to him his entire life. He felt alone and confused.

This feeling of being betrayed is present throughout the whole story. Everyone in the story has played a role to give the narrator pain in one way or another. The narrator’s mother was seen as someone who cared only for her own financial gain. Her actions towards her son are horrible and unjustified with the intent of making him feel like she had let him down. Sonny is also very questionable, as he is almost out of his mind with alcoholism and mental illness. This man is not taking care of himself and is losing his life to substances and desires (Baldwin 117).

Essentially, Sonny Blues’ main message was that suffering is an unavoidable aspect of a person’s life. This aspect is vital in shaping the person we become and how we interact with others in society. Throughout the story the narrator failed to see why he was supposed to suffer and what purpose his suffering served. Sonny tried to explain that suffering is inevitable, but this did not make any sense to the narrator at all. While suffering is the theme of Sonny Blues, suffering and its effects on the narrator fade into becoming secondary to the story. It becomes a benign aspect that holds no significance in the ending. The focus of Sonny Blues is clearly on Sonny’s love for jazz and free life, not his suffering.

The ending of Sonny Blues is very abrupt. After leaving Sonny’s house, the narrator decides to go back to his neighborhood knowing that he will be ridiculed by everyone for having been there in the first place (Baldwin 110). The characterizations throughout the story are questionable and sometimes seems as though there was not much love amongst the characters. The reason for this is that there are some people who only have themselves to care about; they will do anything to make life work for them (Davis, Robin 2021). The story ends with James coming to the conclusion that perhaps, life isn’t as bad as he thought it was.

Work Cited

Baldwin. “Sonny Blues”. (1924-1987)

Davis, Robin. “Memory and Emotional Estrangement in James Baldwin’s” Sonny’s Blues”.” (2021).

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