Framing “Sonny Blues” using “Black Matters”

Toni Morrison's "Black Matters"

Toni Morrison's "Black Matters" is about information and how it has a Eurocentric viewpoint. She discusses how African Americans and other people of color are treated unfairly in the USA. (Morrison, p 310). She also claims that the traditional canon, which has been taught to the majority of people, has ignored the contributions of African Americans.

James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

James Baldwin is the author of the short tale "Sonny's Blues." The narrator of the story learns about his younger sibling Sonny's arrest in a heroine bust at the start of the narrative. The narrator's drunken father, who passed away when Sonny was fifteen years old, hardly ever spent time with his family; his daughter, Gracie, died of polio. Once Sonny gets out of prison, he tells his brother the reason why he got addicted to heroin. Heroin gave Sonny a feeling of control since he had gone through a lot of suffering. When Sonny’s brother watches him play the piano, he realizes that Sonny finds solace in his music and he converts his suffering into something worthwhile through jazz.

Black Matters

Morrison says that the presence of Africans and African Americans in the USA in their four hundred tears of independence is insignificant. The society is informed about the power and views of white men but the experience of African Americans is completely ignored. She adds that American literature does not value African people and their forefathers (Morrison, 312). She also states that black people have influenced the constitution of the USA and the American culture yet they do not receive any credit in literature. She says that the characteristics of the national literature are masculinity, social engagement and individualism but there are ignored issues such as historical isolation, ambiguous and moral problematic (Morrison, p5). Africanism has also been fabricated by omissions, contradictions and conflicts.

Sonny’s Blues


Brotherly love. The story revolves around two brothers who are faced with physical as well as emotional struggles. The narrator is told by their mother that he should always look after his younger brother since they could not rely on their drunken father. When their mother later dies, the narrator has the responsibility of caring for his younger brother, Sonny. However, when Sonny is arrested, the narrator does not communicate with him for a long time. He restores the communication after his daughter’s death because only then did he begin to understand Sonny’s struggles. Sonny gets out of prison and moves in with his older brother who takes care of him. Harlem is a community infested with drugs, frustration and poverty. However, the community members always look out for one another. Adults spend most Saturday afternoons with their families, therefore providing the children with protection and warmth amidst the difficult conditions.

Rage. The narrator shows that the anger inside the characters in the story is as a result of the struggles that they go through. They were frustrated and angry since they had very little opportunities as African Americans since they lived in poverty. The students are “filled with rage” since the knowledge of having limited opportunities makes them angry and may turn into a life filled with darkness. The fury which is caused by desire and desperation is also seen when Sonny expresses it in his music.

Literary devices used to bring out the themes


The cup of trembling

At the end of the book, the narrator says that the glass on Sonny’s piano is “like the very cup of trembling” to indicate that his brother was in a difficult situation. The trembling of the cup is an analogy borrowed from the Bible where plagued people went through fear and a lot of suffering. The fact that Sonny drinks from that glass shows that he has suffered a great deal but he also has a chance at peace and redemption. Through his music, he transforms his suffering into a beautiful thing. Sonny’s fate is not certain, but he had a chance at salvation. When the story ends, the reader is not told whether Sonny will keep on suffering so that he can write more beautiful music or if he finally finds salvation (Baldwin, 2009).

The Housing Projects

Baldwin writes that the projects were “rocks in the middle of a boiling sea.” The writer creates an apocalyptic picture so as to describe the poor living conditions suffered by the projects’ inhabitants. The description has a biblical sense in that it creates the illusion of hell on earth. Just like rocks, the projects were big, lifeless things which were full of misery. The rock also indicate the cold and brutal nature of the buildings. Initially, projects were built in order to offer affordable housing for low income earners but soon became places infested with the drug menace and poor living conditions (Baldwin, 2009). There are drug dealers in the playgrounds thus risking the children to drug abuse at an early age. The projects were started for a good cause. However, they have become a source of bitterness since the inhabitants undergo a lot of suffering making their whole existence very ironic.

Light and Darkness

Baldwin constantly uses the two to describe the mood and feelings of the characters in the story. The writes utilizes light to describe Sonny’s face as a child and the warmth as a result of being around adults after attending church services. Light is used to describe the hopeful and positive elements in life. Light is also used in a religious sense; it shows grace and salvation. Living in the light means behaving in a morally. The darkness is used to describe the personal and social problems which haunt the characters. When the sun sets, the characters became aware of their problems and re troubled by them. The darkness is represented by Sonny’s imprisonment and his drug addiction. Light symbolizes love, comfort and salvation while darkness is the desolation and fear which attempts to get rid of the light.


Imprisonment. In the whole story, both the narrator are struggling. Sonny is a prisoner of his addiction and is also serving time after being arrested at a heroin bust. The narrator feels that he is trapped in Harlem, more precisely the projects which he hates. He is also a prisoner of his own emotions since he cannot carry out his responsibilities to his younger brother. He only steps up and motivates his brother to become a better man when he loses his daughter to Polio. Sonny was imprisoned and addicted to drugs yet he had the opportunity to become whatever he wanted. The narrator has physical freedom but is trapped in the Harlem projects and finds it hard to talk about his feelings.


“Black Matters” attempts to explain that the famous American literature has talked about the history of the country without giving credit to African Americans. The USA is the oldest democracy in the world with people of various origins, including Africa. African Americans have contributed to the shaping of the country’s constitution yet they are mostly ignored. Most of them continue to live in poor conditions which are infested with crime and drug use yet they are part of the American culture. Morrison also noticed that most of the people who commented on the country’s political matters had never read a book by any African American writer.

In the story “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin explains the woes of the African American community. He clearly brings out the drug problem and the fact that children are given the responsibility of taking care of their siblings at an early age. In the story, the narrator I supposed to take care of his brother since their father is an alcoholic. This is a problem in many African American families. He also discusses the despair in the community’s youth who indulge in drugs and some end up in prison. However, the community is very loving and tries to take care of each other. The narrator also talks about his brother’s talent to signify that many black people are talented but lack the avenues and opportunities to rise to stardom.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny's blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.

Morrison, Toni. "Black Matter (s)." Grand Street (1991).

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