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Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin (PDF - Online Reading - Download - Summary - Review)

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Sonny's Blues is a 1957 short story written by James Baldwin, originally published in the Partisan Review. The story contains the memories of a black algebra teacher in 1950s Harlem as he reacts to drug addiction, arrest, and the recovery of his brother Sonny. Baldwin republished the work in the 1965 short story collection Going to Meet the Man.

Summary

The story begins with the anonymous narrator reading about a heroin bust that resulted in the arrest of a man named Sonny, her brother. The narrator continues with his day as an algebra teacher at a high school in Harlem but begins to reflect on Sonny's fate and worries about the children in his class. After school, he runs into a friend of Sonny's, who laments that Sonny will fight addiction even after detox and release from him.
 
But the story ends with an ominous symbol: the Trembling Cup, leaving readers with the suspicion that the brothers will continue to face challenges despite this moment of harmony.

Review

Sonny's Blues is a story written in the first-person singular narrative style. Much of the story is told through a series of flashbacks as memory and family history are revealed to be the central drivers of the trauma and alienation experienced by Sonny and the narrator.

About The Author

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was a novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, and one of America's foremost writers. His essays, such as "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-twentieth-century America. A Harlem, New York, native, he primarily made his home in the south of France.

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Sonny's Blues