Darkness In James Baldwin
The Darkness in James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues". "I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the face and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside." (par. 1). The streets of Harlem hold a sense of inevitable doom in the short story "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin. Even before the story reaches its inciting incident darkness has overtook the readers mind.
I found myself bound to the eerie baseline of the story as the narrator took mental trips back in time to desolate places ridden with hopelessness. Sonny's love for Jazz seems to be his only way to cope with Harlem's system of oppression. He subsequently falls into a deep love affair with heroin when he finds himself alone and without companionship. The narrator takes us on a vivid journey of the hardships of Harlem life, jazz, and drugs.
He also focuses on how real love will allow you to accept people for who they see themselves to be.In the beginning of the story, the narrator really shows how evident darkness is by explaining how it affects the children he really isn't connected to: "All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone." (par. 5). He does this so we can realize that his family isn't the only ones who are affected by the darkness. He shows how they are blinded to their darkness by even more darkness. They could be blind to their future, to opportunities that will allow them to break free and mobilize in a positive way.
This shows the despair the narrator has towards his community and ultimately his brother.The darkness is rooted at a young age; the narrator makes a point to show how it's evident in the consciousness of children: "Maybe there's a kid, quiet and big-eyed, curled up in a big chair in the corner. The silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces frighten the child obscurely. He hopes that the hand which strokes his forehead will never stop - will never die." (par. 82).
Also how the child fears the day they will personally encounter it: "And when lights fill the room, the child is filled with darkness. He knows that every time this happens he'd just move a little closer to that darkness out-side." (par. 83). Darkness is a constant threat in "Sonny's Blues". Heroin is Sonny's darkness; it keeps him blinded by the thought that using helps him play the piano, his way of seeing the light.
He uses darkness to get to light.The breeding place for this darkness is the Harlem Housing projects. No matter if you knock them down and rebuild, it will remain: "But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster." (par. 73). The projects were built in the illusion of a good and clean life (par.
75). Sonny and the narrator both tried to flee and escape by way of the Armed Forces, but that wasn't enough to keep them from Harlem. They returned to a place plagued with people who accepted their environment for what it was, and this ultimately determined their fate."And then there are some who just live, really, in hell, and they know it and they see what's happening and they go right on.
I don't know" (par. 205) Sonny then realizes that there are some people who know the way they live is detrimental to their health, but for some reason they continue to live the way they do. In the following quote Sonny shows how he doesn't understand why they would choose to live in a hell that has a light right above the exit door. "Some guys, you can tell from they play, they on something all the time. And you can see that, well, it makes something real for them.
But of course," he picked up his beer from the floor and sipped it and put the can down again, "they want to, too, you've got to see that. Even some of them that say they don't - some, not all."In the final paragraph of "Sonny's Blues", the narrator realizes that his brother has found his light through the darkness. He describes a glass sitting on top of Sonny's piano, "then, as they began to play again, it glowed and shook above my brother's head like the very cup of trembling." (par.
241) According to some sources the image of the cup trembling comes from the Bible, where the cup of trembling is used as a symbol to describe the darkness that has plagued the people. "Awake, 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 outâ€¦ Behold, I have taken out thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict theâ€¦" (Isaiah 51.1) As a musician, Sonny takes all his suffering and that of those around him and transforms into something beautiful.
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