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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Adams

“Sonny’s Blues” Essay Response Quiz

In the short story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, we are introduced to two brothers, their connection to one another, and the reasons for their detachment. Using auto-biographical settings and story arcs, Baldwin reveals a snapshot of America through the eyes of African Americans living through the era of segregation. Through strong symbolism, appropriate allusions, and thorough theming, we learn that shared suffering and hope can both strengthen familial bonds.


The symbols of light and dark are prevalent throughout the story. The symbol of night is used as a setting for when the brothers’ uncle is killed by a car full of white men. It is also used to mask the nefarious activities that the children of the neighborhood take part in. This setting evokes feelings of struggle, danger, and blindness. My interpretation of the writer’s use of night and the television for the children to escape is turning a blind eye to the danger and turmoil they live in.


In comparison, light is used as a metaphor for healing and hope. When Sonny is in his element, around his chosen family, he holds a cup up that the narrator claims “glowed and shook above my brother’s head like the very cup of trembling” (141). This shift is a moment in the story where the narrator finally sees Sonny for who he has become, creating a sense of knowledge and understanding.


There are multiple nods to the Bible throughout this short story. The most glaring depiction is the reference to “the cup of trembling,” a term is from Isaiah 511:17. The Narrator uses this phrase when reflecting on the trials that both he and his brother have endured. This allusion also brings up the theme of human suffering and the idea of being overwhelmed by life’s struggles. It underscores Sonny’s own struggles and adds a deeper spiritual view of their experiences.


The second allusion in the story is the allegory of the Prodigal Son. In the Biblical tale, the prodigal son spends the inheritance he has been given and then later returns home in search of redemption. This parable is reflected in Sonny’s escape from his neighborhood, fall from grace, and return to his family for redemption. This allusion highlights the complexities of family relationships.


The themes in “Sonny’s Blues” revolve around identity, family bonds, and redemption. Through evoking these strong central themes, we feel a connection to Sonny and his brother and are left with a powerful desire to want the best for both.

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