Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy
Suffering is a negative feeling that most people experience in their time life. James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues” is about the suffering felt by various family members in Harlem, New York City. The author suggests that all the characters suffer in multiple ways because of the drugs, the grief, and poverty. By analyzing the text, I argue that the theme of suffering is demonstrated in the story throughout the experiences of Sonny, his father, and his mother.
First of all, Sonny’s suffering is demonstrated when he is in jail. This can be seen when he says ” I guess I was afraid of something or I was trying to escape from something and you know I have never been very strong in the head (smile).” ( Baldwin 22 ).The adjective ” afraid ” describes he clearly worries about the pain of his family members. Instead of showing his real emotions, the author uses the adjective ” strong ” to emphasize how he suffers deeply inside him. Also, the verb ” smile ” at the end exhibits that how he tries to put away his pain and stand for the drugs and for being alone in jail. Additionally, it is shown when his bother asks towards his friend ” why does he want to die? He must want to die, he’s killing himself, why does he want to die?” (Baldwin 21 ). The repetition of the noun ” die ” implies how much Sonny desires to finish his suffering and how the society affects his actions. This feeling is compounded by the fact that he feels tremendous pain and thinks about ” killing himself” to get rid of it. Many questions asked in the same sentences shows that he attempts to assert control and recognize his suffering. This signifies his struggle to overcome the poverty, the addiction, and to accomplish his dream. Instead of suffering from the hardships of life, Sonny decides to become a musician. Many people can not face suffering and resort to denial in order to deal with it. Sonny is not the only suffering character in the story.
Second of all, Sonny’s father is also presented as being suffering. This is displayed when the father’s reaction is described by his mom: ” Your Dad was like a crazy man that night and for many a night thereafter. ” (Baldwin 29 ). The adjective ” crazy ” strongly expresses that he is not the same since his brother was killed by a group of drunk and drugged white men. This shows that he is feeling deeply depressed. The combination between the adverb “thereafter” and ” many ” illustrates that he will continue to suffer a lot for the rest of his life. Because of losing his son, the father is stuck with an absence of light in his life and is being portrayed as a grieving man. Moreover, the mother says: “Your father always acted like he was the roughest, strongest man on earth. And everybody took him to be like that. But if he hadn’t had me there-to see his tears!” (Baldwin 29-30). The use of superlative adjectives “roughest” and “strongest” emphasizes how much he suppresses his pain away from the loss of a family member. The verb “acted” indicates that he pretends as if nothing happened, but he suffers deeply inside day by day. In the end, the “tears” clearly exhibits that he hides the pain from his family. His suffering will eventually spread into other areas of his life.
Lastly, Sonny’s mother exhibits her suffering by protecting her family. To express her worries about the family, she advises her son: “If anything happens to me he ain’t going to have nobody to look out for him.” (Baldwin 28). The use of the conditional clause “if” implies that between the boundaries of life and death, she still thinks of her family. The negative verb ” ain’t ” clearly demonstrates that she attempts to let “nobody” harm her family members. As a mother, she sacrificed a lot in her life until the last minutes. Furthermore, she says: “I know you never saw your Daddy cry. But I did many a time, through all these years.” (Baldwin 28). She was also suffering for her husband when he lost his brother. The modal verb “never” proves that she is the only one who understands the pain of her husband. The fact that she is a strong woman who supports all her family member’s suffering and is concerned about the well-being of others makes her life difficult. The adjective “many” also reveals that she definitely uses all her strength to support and keep them safe from the limited amount of opportunities in society. She is always there for the loved ones.
To sum up, several characters suffer in multiple ways because of the negative effects of the drugs, the grief, and poverty. The suffering is presented throughout “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. Sonny suffers from the addiction, the father suffers from the loss of his brother, and the mother suffers for the family. They have to endure the hardships in their lives and obviously, it is not easy but it is inevitable. I believe that everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly despite their difficult background.
James, Baldwin. “Sonny’s Blues”/ The Jazz Fiction Anthology. Ed Sascha Feinstein and David Rife Bloomington : Indiana UP, 2009.