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The story starts with an introduction to an algebra teacher who is reading something mysterious on his way to classes. The teacher is on his way to school, filled with dread and paranoia over his brother Sonny, who has been arrested for peddling heroin. The tale of his brother reminds him of the students he teaches, who face challenges on a daily basis in this uncaring world. The writer believes that the majority of his students had now experimented with substances such as opium. When the day draws to a close, the narrator hears his students laughing, which he interprets as teasing and unfair to his imagination in regards to Sonny's fortune. However, he meets Sonny’s friend who is also an addict at the school gate on his way back home and tells the narrator of his brother’s jailing. They walk together discussing Sonny’s case over a long stretch of the road to the narrator’s subway stop. Sonny’s friend then asks the narrator for money once again as they approach his subway stop, he hands him 5 dollars. Despite the anxiety and fear he has over his brother’s problem, he does not visit him in the prison till when his daughter’s death. At this time, he feels a force to write a letter to Sonny who is still in prison. They exchange letters for an extended period of time as Sonny still serves his punishment. After several years of imprisonment Sonny is released and the two meet in New York City at the narrator’s home, Harlem. They sit to have dinner at the narrator’s house where they recall their childhood life, discussing what they like most, how their parents were loving and caring to them. Sonny lives with Isabel, narrator’s wife, however, he builds tension in the house with the kind of music he plays. Sonny has a schedule with a nightclub to play music, he invites his brother to come hear him play piano. The band begins to play music holding back the audience in tension, which makes the protagonist to understand what is the cause of Sonny’s pain and suffering. At the end of the song, narrator sends his brother a glass of scotch and milk. He nods towards the narrator while setting the drink atop piano as he begins the playing again.
“These boys, now, were living as we were living back in the days, they were growing up with a rush, and their heads bumped sharply against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities” (Baldwin, 104). Another quote from narrator on page 106. “Look. Do not tell me your miserable story, if it were not up to me, I would give you one from my side.’ Then I felt guilt, probably, for not having supposed that the poor bastard had a story of his own, much less a sad one, and I asked, quickly, ‘What’s going to happen to him now?’”
Symbolism: Is one of the stylistic devices used in literature whereby an author uses particular objects to portray meanings that are different from the actual sense. The author of Sonny’s Blues has applied various symbolic system in the narrative. For instance, the cup of trembling on Sonny’s Piano signifies the difficult life that Sonny is currently experiencing. The cup of trembling is describing the suffering and fear that faced Sonny’s life before and after imprisonment.
Motifs: This is another language device used by the author to achieve his theme in the narrative. All the characters in the narrative are entangled both fervently and physically to the events in the story. All along the story the narrator and his brother struggle to break away from one obstacle in life to another. The police arrest Sonny after they found out he was a drug peddler; he is imprisoned physically. The narrator is similarly restricted to Harlem, particularly to the housing projects which he is seriously against.
Imagery: The author also uses metaphors to establish the theme of the story to the audience. Several images of ice have appeared in more than a few parts of the tale to symbolize fear, anxiety and the feeling of shock among the characters. For instance, when the narrator hears the news of his brother’s arrest for the first time he felt like a block of ice settling in his belly and melted deliberately throughout the day. The narrator cannot run away from this icy feeling which comes back as “icy dread” when his brother is back from the prison.
In a nutshell, Sonny’s Blues is a story that discusses the life experiences of two brothers. Police arrest Sonny for selling heroin, this message reaches the narrator in the morning leaving him in despair and fear. Notwithstanding the concern and fear he has over his brother’s fate, he does not visit him in prison till after the death of his daughter. At this occasion, he feels sorrow and he decides to write a letter to Sonny. At the end of the storyline, the narrator comes to understand the pain his brother faced through playing of the piano. The author uses various stylistic devices such as imageries, motifs, and symbolism to help him achieve the storyline and the main theme.
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Jazz Fiction Anthology. Ed. Sascha Feinstein and David Rife. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. 17-48.
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