Archive for April, 2009

It’s been far too long, and the world is too full of good things not to share them. 

Today I’ve been thinking about a short story by James Baldwin called “Sonny’s Blues”, because it relates to a paper I just turned in for my world literature class (in an obscure way that not even I care about). 

[click here to see full text]

I first read this story a little over a year ago in a class required for my English minor. It surprised me by becoming my favorite thing we read that semester. 

As the story opens, the narrator’s brother–Sonny–has finally been busted for using/dealing heroin. We don’t meet Sonny yet because he goes to drug rehab. Not normally the kind of story that grabs my attention. 

The real story is about Sonny after he comes home. The narrator doesn’t trust him because of his past. Sonny has a hard time getting past other people’s perception of him, and we come to find out that Sonny still isn’t sure that he can beat this demon.

Baldwin brilliantly bypasses the question of whether or not Sonny overcomes his addiction. Instead, he focuses on the social problem: drug abuse. He doesn’t offer solutions, which we would like, but instead explores how it has affected Sonny’s life, humanizing the problem. At first I didn’t like this. I wanted to pass judgement against heroin use as pure evil, something detestable. It is, but Baldwin’s treatment of the issue reminds us that behind these “societal” problems are real people who have to struggle to overcome them personally.

Powerful, emotional, and thought provoking, Baldwin’s careful prose is a joy to read and rewards the thoughtful reader with a satisfying, enlightening, and thought-provoking ending. Highly recommended.


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