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The functions and roles of James Baldwin’s use of music and art in his works have long been a topic of study for many literature colors. This paper explores the use of the same in his short story ‘Sonny’s Blues’, to determine whether the use of music ‘blues’ by the characters in the story and generally by the writer serve any thematic purposes. The paper explores related studies and literature to research this subject.
James Baldwin uses music extensively through out the text. “Music permeates ‘Sonny’s Blues’ from the title itself, to the street rival gospel, to constant spontaneous appearances of music as the narrator moves through Harlem ( Louis 70). It has been used to aid in the exploration of thematic concerns, defining of cultures and the culture in the setting of the story. Right from a young age, Sonny expresses his desire to become a musician, and when his brother finds it difficult to accept this, Sonny goes on to quote for him all the great musicians. Sonny uses music to define the era in which he lives. He uses music as his choice artistic form to express his reality. (Murray 353-57) observes that the writer uses music, through Sonny to explore the theme of ‘need for self expression’. Sonny sees music as a way in which to ‘defy social conventions and norms, and create something utterly original’ (Murray 356). Music is used as a tool of self redemption from an unsatisfactory life. The two brothers after coming home from the war, instead of fresh job opportunities, find an urban slum and less than satisfactory living conditions. Reilley (147) explains that Sonny uses music as a tool of self expression and redemption, and as a way through which he is able to loose himself and forget his realities. John Reilley (147) asserts the centrality of Blues as a means of personal and social communication. It is observed that music is the catalyst through which the brothers are finally able to be reconciled and to understand each other (Lobb 143).
Music in the story is also used to capture and express to the reader, the emotional and psychological state of characters in the story. In an exploration of the text Murray observed that the darkness of the characters’ human condition was present in the lights and in the music that they played (139).music exposes to the reader the true feeling of the characters a bout their situation. The writer has also used music in the story to help the characters in the story achieve catharsis. ‘The narrator discovers that the paradox of the blues and, of tragedy generally- that melancholy subject matter can be beautifully rendered without essential distortion and produce a kind of joy’ (Reilley 146).
Baldwin also uses music to develop the plot of the story. He does this by using it as a connector of sorts between the character and eventually it becomes the reason why the story unfolds the way it does. (Louis 7.) Observes that ‘music proved to ultimately be the thing that brought them close and gave them the brother they had always wanted but was never there.
It is further noted that music allows the brother to have a relationship based around the understanding of one another and being there for each other. The narrator’s new realm of thinking begins when Sonny and he watches a street revival meeting in which there is a lot of music. The narrator realizes that the music saves them, for it “seemed to soothe a poison out o f them” (50).
Music in the story is seen to have an overriding unifying effect in the story. It is what connects the events of the story, the tool with which the writer explains the culture in the text, the tool that explains the characters emotions and the ultimate reason the reason takes the turns that it does. It is therefore the reason why the story unfolds the way it does, without which the story plot may have nit been possible to effect.
In his paper ‘Utopias False and True in Baldwin’s ‘Sonny’s Blues”, David Farnell down plays the role of music in the story, observing that it is merely a tool through which characters escape into some sort of utopia with no real relevance to their lives. He states that characters in the story use music as a way in which to run away from their realities and hide, as opposed to a way in which to express their longings and achieve catharsis. He observes that Sonny rejects drugs using music, and he describes this music as ‘the ultimate utopia’ (Darnell 7) .Although he acknowledges that moments of music in the text have a transformative power in the moment they happen, he observes that as soon as the music is over, the characters go back to their realities, and her observes no real connection of the events of the story by music. He summarizes music in the story as mere utopia and wishful thinking.
Although it is evident in the story that music does provide a refuge of sorts to its listeners in the story, summing that up as its only purposes and deriding all the rest does a dis-service to the judicious employment of the sane by the writer to achieve all the things afore mentioned in this paper. It is clear that an exploration of this text without the music components would result in a greatly different kind of story.