James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”
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James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”







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James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”. James Baldwin (1924-1987). Born in Harlem, 1924 Illegitimate Mother was a domestic worker Grew up in great poverty Step-father was a factory worker and store-front preacher Baldwin himself was a street preacher for a few years
James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

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Slide 1

James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

Slide 2

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

  • Born in Harlem, 1924

    • Illegitimate

    • Mother was a domestic worker

    • Grew up in great poverty

  • Step-father was a factory worker and store-front preacher

    • Baldwin himself was a street preacher for a few years

    • Early work deals with issues of religious identity

  • Baldwin’s stepfather never fully accepted James, so he always felt like an outsider in the family

Slide 3

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

  • In 1948, fleeing what he had felt was the poisonous racial atmosphere of the United States, Baldwin moved to France. 

  • Though he remained there for the rest of his life, he did visit the United States periodically, to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and to teach and lecture

Slide 4

“Sonny’s Blues”

  • “Sonny’s Blues” first published in The Partisan Review in 1957

  • Later appeared in his 1965 collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man

Slide 5

“Sonny’s Blues”

  • Takes place in the mid-1950s, probably during the Korean War

    • Before the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement

    • Dark days of segregation

  • The irony of the family’s urban life

    • Military service

    • Life in a housing project

Slide 6

Class Divisions and Racial Politics

  • The narrator and Sonny can be thought of as representing a divide within the black race during this time period

    • Middle class vs. lower class

    • Pragmatist vs. Artist

    • Belief in the American Dream vs. Disillusion

  • Which worldview seems to win out in the end?

Slide 7

Jazz

  • Sonny

    • Lower class

    • Musician/Artist

  • Charlie Parker

    • Bebop

  • The Narrator

    • Middle class

    • Teacher

  • Louis Armstrong

    • “That old-time, down-home crap.”

Slide 8

The end of “Sonny’s Blues”

  • The narrator and Sonny begin to bridge the gap between them at the end.

  • The narrator begins to understand Sonny’s music.

    • 30: “And, while Creole listened…”

    • 31: “Then they all gathered around Sonny and played…”

  • What might this symbolize?

Slide 9

32: The “cup of trembling”

Isaiah 51: 17-22

  • 17Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.[………]

    21Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:22Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:23But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.


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