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Drugs and Musicians in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin Essay

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When first reading “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, it may initially seem that the relationship between musicians and drugs is synonymous. Public opinion suggests that musicians and drugs go hand and hand. The possibility lies that Sonny’s passion for jazz music is the underlying reason for his drug use, or even the world of jazz music itself brought drugs into Sonny’s life. The last statement is what the narrator believes to be true. However, by delving deeper and examining the theme of music in the story, it is nothing but beneficial for Sonny and the other figures involved. Sonny’s drug use and his music are completely free of one another. Sonny views his jazz playing as a ray of light to lead him away from the dim and dismal future that Harlem has to offer.
The first moment music is introduced in the story is while the narrator is teaching at school. He has just learned of his brother arrest. He overhears a schoolboy whistling and it drowns out the “mocking and insular laughter of the other boys” (44). The narrator listens and is, for a moment, reminded of the fate that could meet his students; the same fate that met Sonny. He describes the whistling as “pouring out of him as though he were a bird” (44). It is innocent, pure, and drowns out the bitterness of his peers. It is reminiscent of a much younger Sonny. A Sonny that is still hopeful and still believes he can escape the demons that lurk in Harlem. The young schoolboy is creating this music to avoid and protect him from the dangers of his life, much like the way Sonny did in his younger years when he was playing for his life on Isabel’s piano.
Far more examples exist in the book of music becoming someone’s saving grace. For instance, the barmaid that the narrator a...


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...cape. He truly sees his brother for the first time. Sonny played music to escape and remove himself from the life that Harlem had to offer. It is a powerful ending to a story for brothers who have had such turbulent relationship.
In conclusion, music feeds the soul and simply makes things better. It gives Sonny, the barmaid, the street revivalists, and others in the story a chance to go back to a place where life was not so dreadful, even though trouble is waiting with the world outside. Music presents them with something to live for. Undoubtedly it is the most positive aspect of Sonny’s life. His drug arrest was simply the product of his environment and choices. Playing music was his way to try and leave that world behind. Throughout the entire story, music offers nothing but a positive influence on those that are around it be it hearing, listening, or watching.


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