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"Sonny's Blues", a story written by James Baldwin, takes place in Harlem, New York in the 1960 's. The authors' purpose wants the reader to realize the experiences that the author experienced. The story is about the past and present lives of two brothers. It is told in first person point of view by Sonny's brother (a teacher), whose name was never mentioned. The teacher comes to terms with his African American roots, his brother, the students, and at the Jazz Club. The narrator also specifically tells many stories from the place they grew up, the death of their parents, and how they parted which explains a little of why they didn't communicate so well.
Through these stories lies, as to what I believe It begins with the event of Sonny getting caught in a raid of using heroin. He was placed in jail because of his drug addiction. The significance of this event triggers many emotions and old memories for both brothers. The teacher was mortified to hear what has been going down with Sonny.
The teachers observation on the students that the reason why they did drugs was to get away from anger and racism. The students mocked each other because of rage. They also flip out because of frustration and society. He now understands Sonny because of the observation of the students. A man came across the teacher one night who happened to be a previous friend of Sonny's. He wasn't too found of this man because of the type of person he was and what he was involved with (drugs and alcohol).
Before they got to the subway station they stopped into this bar. The teacher was trying to cope with the guy so he can keep asking him questions about Sonny and get information about his life. As they talk a barmaid was brought to the teachers attention. She was a semi-whore, had a battered face, looked doomed, and struggled.
The music she was dancing to wasn't the teachers' type of music so it didn't interest him too much. He was into bebop, Charlie Parker's music, which was classical music. The bar was playing Jazz music, which was full of anger and aggravation. Sonny's was into that type of music. The teacher is married with children.
His daughter Grace died of Polio and suffered. Then after, the teacher wrote to Sonny while he was in jail. He felt bad that he hasn't been keeping in touch with his brother and also because of the loss of his daughter he started to reunite with him and get together with him. They have been writing continuous to each other whenever they got a chance. The day came when they finally met up with each other to reminisce the old neighborhood. They both took a ride out to Harlem where they grew up.
The moment Sonny and the teacher started into the house in Harlem, the teacher had the feeling that he was basically bringing him back into the danger Sonny had almost died trying to break out. As they are being driven around the neighborhood the teacher is thinking back when both Sonny and the teachers parents were alive and how they lived. His father was loud talking and big, just the opposite of Sonny. He was always on the look out for something better, but he died before he found it. The mother was always wearing pale blue clothing, and sitting on the sofa. The last time he has seen his mom alive when he was home on leave from the army.
As they continued to look around the neighborhood, the teacher was trying to see Sonny's expressions to find out something about him. He was dying to hear Sonny tell him he was safe from the dope addiction. The teacher needs the roots of the American culture. He recognizes the need to get back into the culture. There were many memories between the family. Their mom and dad had a get together with the church people and relatives every Sunday afternoon.
An incident has happened to his Uncle (their fathers brother) when both of the boys were younger. A group of white people was in a car drunk and ran over their fathers' brother unintentionally. They just wanted to scare him but instead because they were drunk they didn't think they did any harm. She didn't want to say anything when they were younger because she didn't want them to be brought up like their father and be racist against white people. The mother felt guilt but she wanted to tell the teacher to look out for his brother.
She tells him that story about the father because she wants to give him a message about how the world is taught to be cruel. Sonny's past relationship with the teacher was atrocious. He gave up on Sonny. He was overcoming by the pain, suffering and isolation he sees and experiences and thus turns to drugs for escape. Eventually, Sonny is cured of his drug addiction and returns to jazz as the inspired passage for his frustration. Through jazz, he surpasses his social environment and engages in an ongoing search for truth and significance.
Sonny dropped school completely to continue to play jazz because that's all he cared about. In the religious street scene the teacher sees insight and wisdom out the window. He sees a preacher, gospel singers, and battered women. The music gave the battered women an emotional feeling. They had the same connection as the battered woman in the bar dancing.
The gospel music and the bar music had the same experience (such as it moved them and it touches them). As Sonny was watching it he had a smile on his face indicating he was enjoying it. He had a notebook in his hand raking notes as the music plays. He's taking notes because jazz incorporates it all (rage, joy, love, anger, gospel). He wants to incorporate that sound as the gospel music. The teacher is enjoying it because he's recognizing (understands), and appreciates power and the function of the music on the two women.
The teacher sees and is taking Sonny seriously. Sonny is learning of what the teacher sees. Sonny is a young adult who should be no longer patronized or protected. On the other hand, Sonny's brother promised his mother to protect is brother by all means, as it was the last meeting of Sonny's mother and his bro. Now the brother feels the terrible burden of his promise. The uncertainty of narration is beautifully completed and dissolved in the final scene.
The brother orders two drinks for Sonny, a glass of milk and a glass of scotch. The previous representing childhood and protection the later representing adulthood and responsibility. The choice is made by Sonny who sips from the scotch indicating his decision. The teacher is storytelling about his change of attitude of music, his mother, his mindset of his brother, and the African American culture. The teacher saw only classical music to be respected and practical. Until he realized that there was a certain bond through jazz that can also be valued the same as classical music.
He didn't have a great relationship with his mom when he was younger. Now he realizes that he should have had a closer relationship with her because she brought closer connection between him and his brother. He realizes about his brother that he had a lot planned for himself. For once the teacher really gets into Sonny's world and in return Sonny's brother comes to an understanding.
Through Sonny playing blues, the narrator comes to an understanding of what happened in Sonny's life and his own. The teacher had stereotypical views of black culture and society. African American culture has been a communal culture where individuals derive their identity or meaning from their relationship to their family and community. He always distanced himself from the threatening world that surrounds him. African American culture has had a beneficial function in helping the black community confront its past and present. He now achieves a new understanding of his culture and community - the changes in attitude and consciousness that results in the teacher's reconnection with his society.
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The Roots of Blues Music
Blues is a very important type of music. Most music that you hear today
has some form of blues in it. If it wasn't for the blues there wouldn't be any
rock and roll, country, rap, pop, or jazz . Blues is also important for African
American culture. African Americans were also the people who started the blues.
The Blues started in the late 1800's in levee camps or plantations in
places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas were many African Americans lived.
The blues of that time was called country blues. It was a mixture of African
music, field hollers, work songs, religious music, and ragtime.
The main influence of blues music was African music which has a strong
and steady beat using drums or other instruments. Its beat and singing showed
in the blues.
Work songs and field hollers were an influence on blues. They were mostly
made up as the musicians were singing. They were a mixture of story telling
and talking with a definite call and response.
Religious music was very important in forming blues music. Because most
blacks went to Christian churches from an early age and were exposed to
Ragtime was an influence that came later and is a faster blues played with
the piano and someone singing which was usually played in bars called barrel
The first country blues that was written and published was "Memphis Blues"
by W.C. Handy in the early 1900's.
The first recorded blues was " Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith in 1915.
Most country blues were played with an acoustic guitar and with someone
singing. It also has a definite call and response between the voice and guitar.
Guitars were used because they had a broad range of notes, they were
portable, affordable, and they were permitted by slave owners at that time. The
slave owners didn't permit drums because they thought the drums could be used to
signal to each other.
There were many beginning Blues musicians but only a few had their songs
written, published, or recorded. The few who did became very popular. One
example is Blind Melon Jefferson who started recording in 1926. His records
outsold every other male musician at the time. Other popular musicians were
Robert Johnson, Son House, Ma Rainy, and the most famous Charlie Patton who is
credited for being the founder of the Delta Blues.
In the end you can say that Blues came from many places, played an
important part in African American culture, And was and still is a popular form
of music for everybody.
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