Sonny and J. Alfred Prufrock are characters in two famend works of art written by two pioneering poets James Baldwin and T. S. Eliot. Even even though the two poems, Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues and Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock are different in some aspects, they also have some things in common. The characters are specific and the two poems were essentially set in two different time periods. The two characters, Sonny and Prufrock appear entirely different from one another entirely. However, on examining the two characters who are central to the poem’s theme, the one similarity that stands out for the reader is the fact the both of them experience suffering. This analysis aims to critically analyze the two poems and the main characters and make a deduction about the nature of suffering.
Sonny’s Blues is a story that follows the travails of a young jazz musician who hailed from Harlem who becomes addicted to Heroin and is later apprehended by the police. After his release from incarceration, he makes a return to his childhood neighborhood and goes on to live with his elder brother, who is in this case the narrator. On the other hand, Prufrock represents a character who has seen better days and yearns for another start, a kind of revolution on a personal level, the only problem being that he does not know where to start.
In Sonny’s Blues, the story starts with the narrator having read that his brother Sonny was arrested by the police for the use and sale of heroin. The narrator in the poem explains how he spends the rest of the day in shock. “I read it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn’t believe it, and I read it again… I was scared, scare for Sonny… A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long…” (Baldwin 122) Such an opening to the story presents a menacing and disorienting situation. Baldwin effectively uses imagery to represent the magnitude of the situation which suggests something tragic has taken place. The narrator seems to undergo extreme suffering as a result of the consternating news he read from the newspaper which leads one to conclude that suffering is contagious.
Prufrock in, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, at first embodies a character that commands respect. However, over time changes have rendered the seedier moments he experienced earlier in life irrelevant and to him they are simply bygones. He is also aware that he has become something else the older he becomes, he measures his life in terms of coffee spoons, he continues to slim and his hairline seems to subside with each passing day. “…Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair…” (Eliot 130) Needing a kind of revolution, he does not know where to start but instead cuts a frustrated figure of an individual who lacks the confidence, is isolated and hopeless. He does not trust anyone or anything, he has lost any sense of human sensibility he harbored and is stuck in a life or death situation. Prufrock’s situation indicates that suffering might lead to insecurity, loneliness and desperation.
The story of Sonny in many ways resonates with many young people in today’s contemporary society. Faced by challenges, most of them turn to drugs to try and cope with the challenges. Sonny’s Blues is a story that focuses on human suffering and central to the development of this theme is Sonny. The reason Sonny opts to use drugs while in high school is he harbors feelings of entrapment. He’s trapped in Harlem, school, and is entrapped by what he wants to do and what he has to do. The narrator, Sonny’s brother does not seem to understand Sonny or his desires, his passion for music or why he would like to enlist in the military, a fact that leaves him frustrated. Sonny suffers on the inside and as such turns to drugs. From this scenario it would be right that suffering leads one into making irrational decisions.
In conclusion, on top of being exceptional pieces of art, the two poems also address the issue of suffering. The key theme in the two is suffering which effectively highlights the nature of suffering.
Baldwin, James. Sonny’s blues. Ernst Klett Sprachen, 2009.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Poetry 6.3 (1915): 130-135.