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James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues'' Versus Daniel Alarcón's “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal”: Comparative Analysis

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The surroundings of someone has impact and influence on an individual's behavior, this is also referred to as “nurture.” These influences later eventually determine mental health and the roles in society one fulfills. Two short stories, James Baldwin’s, “Sonny’s Blues' ' and Daniel Alarcón, “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal” are great examples of two different men who are from two different cultures, yet still have similarities. Both storylines give an exceptional amount of details elaborating on suffering, stereotyping, anger, and redemption. Each story has a theme of it’s own reflecting on how the environment plays a role in life decisions.

For instance, suffering is a dominant factor for these men, starting at young development ages. In “Sonny’s Blues' ' Harlem was where Sonny grew up. Harlem was filled with drugs and addiction. Sonny became an addict of heroin himself, explaining that drugs were to cope with suffering. Similarly, Rocky grew up in Stockton, California, “Further you go, the worse it gets. And we lived at the very end.” Most people in these neighborhoods struggled both socially and economically. These communities are segregated and don’t offer a lot of opportunity, this forcing Rocky into becoming a gang member.

Suffering not only occurs in their communities but also occurs in their personal lives. Rocky is beaten as a child, at the age of thirteen he and his siblings were sent to a shelter because a social worker came by the house and there was no food. When Rocky went home three months later, he began to steal for food and survival. Personal dark experiences also dominates Sonny motivations. Due to being African American, his uncle was murdered in a cold-blood hit and run done by racist white men. These experiences and exposures are what leads these two men down dark paths, eventually becoming the stereotypes that society has labeled them as.

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In both short stories, “Sonny Blues” and “The Ballad of Rocky Rantal” both men are imprisoned. Sonny is put into jail when he is caught for heroin. Being in prison he reflects on how he wishes for freedom. Although Sonny is in physical prison, he also believes Harlem is a form of imprisonment. He believes the community is a trap. Similarly, Rocky was sent to jail. At just fifteen, Rocky was carryinging guns and doing robberies at stores, but it wasn’t just for him. He would take some of the money and slip it under the pillows of his siblings and other families' children. He realized he became what the world saw of him, Rocky and shot a sixteen year old at close range, killing Chuy. He was sent away to a correctional facility.

These stories are about being a product of the environment in which they live, but also about looking for redemption and finding one's identity. It isn't until his 40s that Rocky begins to think about simple words. He was always on the defensive side of life that ignored words like compassion, understanding, forgiveness. When Rocky gets out of prison the first person on his list to see is Chuy's mother. He wept on his knees to the old lady that is now in her 70s. He accepted responsibility. The woman said she's seen him around making amends she forgives him. When Sonny left prison, he contacted his brother to make amends. Sonny begins to find beauty in his pain by playing music.

When we hear these chilling stories about individuals it is easy to start stereotyping individuals without thinking about the social structure that got them there. The social class and environment of where these men lived was a key factor in shaping their behaviors. These stories capture the struggle of self identity outside of the community someone on developed in.

Literature Cited

  1. Sonny Blues. 1957: by james baldwin
  2. The Ballad Of Rocky Rontal, The King Is Always Above The People : Daniel Alarcón
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James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” Versus Daniel Alarcón’s “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal”: Comparative Analysis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” Versus Daniel Alarcón’s “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal”: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” Versus Daniel Alarcón’s “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal”: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2024].
James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” Versus Daniel Alarcón’s “The Ballad of Rocky Rontal”: Comparative Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2024 Feb 26]. Available from:
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