A Brief Story Review: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

This summer I read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Baldwin’s style of writing immediately stood out to me as extremely personable and relevant to this current day. His relationship with words and stories and sentences really put me in awe as a reader. I found myself re reading pages as I went, stuck in this smooth and enticing circle of words I didn’t want to escape. His character development was next level, afterall, he is one of the greats. I spent an evening listening to a talk by Christina Sharpe, and then my professor assigned us this story. I planned to just start it before dinner, and before I knew it I sat there reading the whole world, every word, full of the best and worst. Gulping and digesting quickly only to be surprised by a new layer of flavor. 

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in jazz clubs, jazz cafes, whatever you want to call them. I’ve been doing some great reading on stories from Harlem, Audre Lorde is the other name that comes to mind. This story though related to me more than any I had read before. These are my initial thoughts, I’m sure I’ll understand his themes and big picture points after we talk about it in class. I will say the point that stuck out with me the most was the relationship our narrator has with his brother is truly tragic and familiar and emotional and uncomfortable but so cozy too. Read about an algebra teacher in Harlem and a duplex that looks like the rest of them. Another man on the front of a newspaper and a big wooden structure with hammers and strings and sometimes ivory. Go tell it to your mom and dad, go tell them about Sonny’s Blues.

“I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t. I wanted to talk about  will power and how life would be– well, beautiful. I wanted to say that it was all within; but was it? or, rather, wasn’t that exactly the trouble? And I wanted to promise that I would never fail him again. But it would have sounded– empty words and lies”

Published by ellakotsen

student at Bryn Mawr College

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