In the short story “Sonny’s Blues” written by James Baldwin, character Sonny possesses the gift of music specifically jazz. His music offers him a chance at redemption but at the same time it threatens to destroy him by leading back to his destructive addiction. This suggests that one’s creative ability can be a saving grace, but can lead to a life of despair.
The music that Sonny performs is based off an expression of freedom and passion more than a traditional strict social order. For artists like Sonny, the new form of jazz bebop gave them the chance to express living freely, resit conservative social norms and create something original. For most musicians around that time drugs were their biggest temptation, like Sonny coping with his heroin addiction. It actually hurts to read to read his struggles about how he “was all by myself at the bottom of something, stinking and sweating and crying and shaking, and [he] smelled it” (Baldwin). On many levels he represents hopelessness, and most readers like me can probably feel empathy towards this man who saw no other way out of his troubled life than to turn to harcore drugs aka heroin. Heroin and music are synonymous; they serve the same purpose for Sonny to escape the everyday struggles in Harlem and the traditional social order. The only way he knows how to relieve himself from his everyday struggles is creating music. To create music, Sonny has to contemplate the suffering and obstacles in his everyday life. He interprets that suffering into a creative expression that, even if only provisionally saves him from his past mistakes; gives him the opportunity to overcome the struggles that plague the society he lives in. He has the chance to express his frustrated and deep-seated longing through his music. The way he offers his music is heroic almost Christlike. He knows that playing music may destroy him by leading him back into a life of heroin which makes him feel “distant [and] feel in control” (Baldwin 24) but he also knows that it’s a burden that he is willing to accept if he wants to freely express himself. We see this being shown at the end of the story when the narrator goes to see Sonny perform his music for the first time. The narrator has no knowledge about jazz especially bebop. He associates it with a certain “stereotype” of people he doesn’t want his brother hanging out with. He puts jazz together with drugs and Sonny’s addiction, blaming the bebop lifestyle for turning Sonny into a heroin addict because he knows that some players have to get inebriated in order to perform. This reveals how he is really protective over Sonny by not wanting him to “walk these streets, black and funky and cold” (Baldwin). But, there is a contrast in the end of the story; Sonny’s music builds a bridge between these distant brothers by having the narrator finally started to appreciate the wonders and horrors it takes to be a musician. We finally see a bond starting between these siblings. Sonny’s gift of music brings them to a common understanding they never experienced together before.
In “Sonny’s Blues” the character Sonny possess the talent of music, specifically bebop jazz. His creative gift is created from his struggles and obstacles he faces which leads him down a path of drugs but it pays off because his songs releases him from this inertial confinement and allows him to freely express himself. His imaginative gift also helps build bonds between people who he has never really related to before, which suggests that a person with a creative gift can possibly lead them down a life of despair but can also lead to a life of liberation and joy.