Native Son Sonny's Blues

Essay add: 24-10-2015, 21:50   /   Views: 426

Themes of Native Son and Sonny's BluesThe groundbreaking novel Native Son by Richard Wright and the short story “Sonny's” Blues by James Baldwin are both written by African American writers who are trying to share the struggles of "colored" people in America. Although the stories are very different in the way that the issues of racism, segregation and oppression are approached there are many overarching themes that both authors address. Native Son is set in the Chicago during the depression and “Sonny's Blues” is set in the traditionally black Harlem of New York City in the 1950's.

Both authors portray the plight that many blacks in America were faced with during their respective eras. Imagery plays a very important role in both of these stories as “light and dark,” are used to symbolize the struggles of the African Americans in America and the conflict between the whites and blacks.Wright uses the colors black and white throughout Native Son to illustrate the conflict between white mainstream America and black America. White and black are used throughout the book as forms of imagery and set the tone for the story as to which side is good and which is bad. From very early on in the book Bigger is associated with the color black, such as the rat in chapter one that bigger hunts down and brutally corners and kills. The black rat could be seen later as representing Bigger and the way that he is trapped and hunted down by the white people for the murder of Mary Dalton.

Throughout the book the color black is associated with negative images such as the “black belt” of Chicago, where the white people feel unsafe to venture as these areas are known to just be riddled with poor black people and rampant crime.White on the other hand has a very different representation in Native Son, it is the empathetic color and is portrayed as being everywhere and surrounding Bigger and other African Americans in Chicago's South Side. Early in the story the snow is falling lightly as Bigger makes his way through the city, but as the story progresses it turns into a blizzard. The use of the white snow represents the white world that is surrounding Bigger and engulfing Bigger.

A powerful use of the white imagery is while Bigger is on the run and he goes to buy a newspaper and falls into a snow bank and it seems to consume him. “ The snow had stopped falling and the city, white, still…(Wright 226).” The whiteness of the snow is a representation of the “whiteness” that has had power over him since the day he was born, and has kept him segregated to one part of the city. When Bigger goes to work for the Daltons, they are not simply described as being white, imagery is used throughout the story to describe their whiteness. There are many examples of descriptions of the Daltons from Wright "Bigger saw Mr. Dalton's white hair glisten like molten silver (Wright189)." Another example is that Mrs. Dalton appears as a "white presence.

Her white eyes held wide and stony, her hands lifted sensitively upward . . . the fingers long and white" (Wright 189). Later Bigger's, prison cell is described as being white by comparing it to Mrs. Dalton: "Mrs.

Dalton, white as the wall behind her, listened open-mouthed" (Wright 276). The significance of white being used as imagery to describe his prison cell is that it is the “white” society that had imprisoned him “the black rat” and they will only be done with him when he has been destroyed, like the rat that Bigger cornered and killed.In “Sonny's Blues”, Baldwin uses the imagery of light and dark to illustrate the tough upbringing the many people are faced with in growing up in the inner city, and particularly Harlem. The darkness throughout the story represent the harsh realities of living and growing up on the rough streets of Harlem, where the chances of getting away from the lure of drugs and crime is very difficult. For many people the depressing state of their poor lives is represented as darkness and an option to escape the darkness of their lives is to start using drugs such as Heroin.

The struggle between the narrator and his brother Sonny and between Sonny and his drug addiction are depicted as light and dark throughout the story.Early in the story that narrator describes Harlem as being a dark place that has trapped many people in it. "I stared at it in the swinging light of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside"( Baldwin 304). This reference to the community of Harlem “darkness” is very important as we see that the narrator as a negative view of Harlem and realizes that the threat of falling into the darkness that is Harlem is a very real problem from many young people:" All they really knew were two darkness's, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness…( Baldwin 305)The children that the narrator is teaching in school are still faced with the same problems of “darkness” that the past generations have been faced with, while growing up in Harlem.

The youth of Harlem are overcome with the “darkness” before they are even aware of it because they are not given the opportunity to realize that they can strive for something better. The use of light imagery throughout the story is used to focus on the fact that with the “light” there is a knowledge and understanding of the world, which is not always a positive thing. “And when the light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness"(Baldwin 313). This is an example of how the narrator describes the expanding knowledge of the world outside the child's home and how the child in this case does not want the light turned on. The child does not want to be exposed to the things of the darkness outside of their window, in the world that their parents have to live in.Richard Wright and James Baldwin both use imagery in very powerful ways to bring across the intended messages of their stories.

Although the things that are portrayed by the different forms of imagery are different they are similar in the way that they both bring try to portray the struggles that are faced by African Americans in American society. Wright uses the powerful imagery of black and white to bring across the idea that the blacks are truly a separated and mistreated part of society that is being chased down and killed like a rat and that the “whiteness” of society is everywhere and destroying the blacks like a blizzard. Baldwin uses the imagery of the “darkness” of Harlem to show how the blacks of the inner city are suffering because everywhere they look they are surrounded by darkness and one of the only ways that young people seem to think that they can escape this darkness is through drugs.

The light imagery used by Baldwin seems to describe the enlightenment of the children and the people in the ghetto that there is more to life than what they are being presented with, but with the light they are also able to see the darkness everywhere around them. The use of imagery by both Baldwin and Wright creates stories that are very powerful, as the intended message of the writers is conveyed to the readers in many different ways beyond just the literal words that are on the page.Works CitedBaldwin, James, “Sonny's Blues.” Forty Short Stories: A Portable Anthology. Ed.Beverly Lawn. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2004.

304 - 333.Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1940