Sonny’s Blues Setting


Sonny’s Blues Setting


Sonny’s Blues is a representation of the challenges thatNegros face in United States. The narrative expresses the autonomy aswell as capability to describe a setting whose basis is entrenched inthe dreadful conditions, rejection and methodical obliteration ofspecific civilians, their way of life and languages. Baldwin criticsthe racial discrimination happening towards blacks. It borrowsheavily on the state of mind of US Negros in a period of emergingcivil freedoms and the era of Jim Crow. The paper is a literaryanalysis of the socio-historical story’s setting, which isexplained through the lives of characters brought up in Harlem,military service and music.

The setting of Sonny’s Blues is socio-historical. Thenarrative happens in Harlem, New York (Baldwin, 1995 p.122). The townis very crucial in narrating the story, because it makes it possibleto understand the different characters. For instance, Sonny startsusing drugs as a way of freeing himself from feeling trapped by theenvironment where he lives. There are characters suffering due toscarcity, prostitutes that have to endure being beaten, as well asyoung males that are trapped in a society where they are unable toescape. One of the best illustrations of the settings happens whenthe narrator together with Sonny drive towards the apartment of thenarrator. This follows the scene when Sonny has been released fromprison. The narrator is in a reflective state, which makes itpossible to understand where he lives. He contemplates of the placehe was born and brought up together with the brother as is elaboratedin the quote “We hit 110th street and started rolling up LenoxAvenue, and I had known the avenue all my life” (Baldwin, 1995p.129). From the quote, it is obvious that the narrator is veryfamiliar with the setting.

The story happens during the mid-twentieth era, possibly in thestart of the 1950s. Most of the major happenings in Sonny’sBlues have taken place before the benefits deriving from actionslike the Civil Rights Movement. The narrator explains a period thatis characteristic of the years when people were separated because ofrace and the same was evident in public institutions. It is apparentthat the storyteller and protagonist, Sonny, young years took placein a society where majority of the population was black. This makesit possible to highlight the poor living conditions of blacks, whowere victims of segregation. They lived in an impoverished society,Harlem, like many African Americans in the 50s. Not only was povertyapparent in the neighborhood, but insecurity. The lack of safety isexpressed when the narrator describes their bitter father. The fatherendures the brutal killing of the brother, murdered by Southernwhites, and is unable to provide a better living place for hisfamily. This conditions make him bitter and he describes Harlem ashell, “safe, hell ain’t no place safe for kids, nor nobody”(Baldwin, 1995 p.130). The quote helps in further explaining thesetting as an unfavorable place to live, and people living in theneighborhood are compelled to stay there because of circumstances,like lack of money and fear of segregation from living inmiddle-income neighborhoods mainly comprising of whites.

The brothers have taken part in military service, which plays acrucial function in depicting the socio-historical setting. Sonny’sBlues is set during a period when many African Americans enrolledin the military. The reader gets to realize that the brothers tookpart in military service as the narrator recounts “being home onleave from the army” (Baldwin, 1995 p.130). This provides ahistorical background of blacks’ experiences in military. Allthrough the history of US, to the endeavors at segregating publicestablishments during the 50s, blacks have been volunteers during therevolutionary and Korean War. However, we also get to learn that thenarrator talks of a period when the voluntary efforts of AfricanAmerican were repulsed because of racial discrimination. The militaryperiod of the 50s was lethal to African American soldiers. Thenarrative highlights a period when blacks endeavor to depict theirpatriotism and advance their living standards through service in themilitary. They anticipated that military service would work towardsdemonstrating that they needed the similar respect given to whites.

Sonny and the narrator make it possible for the reader to understandthe racially segregated society they live in and their desire to betreated fairly. In his teenage years, Sonny longs to enroll as asoldier, which he supposes will “take him from the killing streetsof Harlem and create an opportunity of getting a college education onthe GI Bill” (Baldwin, 1995 p.136). The fact that becoming asoldier is safer compared to living in Harlem is an ironicrepresentation of the family’s urban encounters. The storytellerfaces the same struggles of inability to become successful or feelsecure at home, despite participation in the military. After takingpart in the war, he goes back to his home and becomes a teacher ofalgebra, which makes it possible for him to afford a middle classlife. However, racial discrimination and separation towards blackscompel him and his family to stay in an unsafe environment. Thisdemonstrates that despite the significant role played by blacks issafeguarding the US, the country failed to ensure her democracypledge to afford fair treatment to all, whether black or white,following the end of every military win.

It is more likely that the story unfolds during the Korean battleinstead of the Second World War. The conclusion derives from theanalysis of jazz music in 1950s. The scene where the narratoranalyses the music scene demonstrates a division amid the AfricanAmerican society as is apparent amid the brothers. The divisionarises from the disparity amid blacks that have worked towardsbecoming middle class. The narrator is an illustration, because heworks hard and endeavors to make the life of his family better and isready to join the white society. Contrary, Sonny is therepresentation of a society that refuses to accept change, thatblacks can rise through hard work and attain the similar equality aswhites. Sonny supposes that blacks have to struggle fiercely forfairness. In addition, is the belief that equality amid races withinsociety is merely achievable via tremendous social change, otherwiseblacks progress to face oppression. The division is apparent as thebrother share ideas. Sonny argues that one needs to follow theirdreams like he wants to become a musician, yet the narrator arguesthat becoming successful means making sacrifices and working hard(Baldwin, 1995 p.133-134).


Baldwin, J. (1995).&nbspSonny`sblues and other stories.London: Penguin