The Theme Of Identity In Sonny's Blues

1604 words - 6 pages

James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" highlights the struggle because community involvement and individual identity. Baldwin's "leading theme - the discovery of identity - is nowhere presented more successfully than in the short story 'Sonny's Blues" (Reilly 56). Individuals breeds isolation and even persecution by the collective, dominant community. This conflict is illustrated in three ways. First, the story presents the alienation of Sonny from his brother, the unnamed narrator. Second, Sonny's legal problems suggest that independence can cause the individual to break society's legal conventions. Finally, the text draws heavily from biblical influences. Sonny returns to his family just like the prodigal son, after facing substantial trials and being humiliated. The story's allusion to the parable of the prodigal son reflects Baldwin's profound personal interest in Christianity and the bible.
First of all, the identity of Sonny is contrasted sharply with his brother, the narrator. The most obvious difference between the two is their names. Sonny's name is prominent and part of the story's theme. Sonny's brother, on the other hand, is never given a name. Despite being the voice and the perspective of the story, the narrator does not have a distinct identity. He is known solely by his relationship with others, his status as a brother, a son, a husband and a father.
The omission of the brother's name by the author is clearly intended. By having no defined identity, the brother stands in as the representative of the black community. The narrator is a responsible family man. His job as a high school math teacher illustrates his interest in helping others through education. His decision to marry suggests that he is responsible and attempting to live an honorable life.
Names, or the lack of names, indicate the struggle between the communal identity and the individual. The narrator is not the only story character without a name. The narrator's parents are also unnamed. The unnamed are all individuals who fit within the black community in expected, responsible ways. Sonny and the other named characters, such as Creole and Isabel, all have names due to their deviance. Each of these characters don't quite fit into the normalcy embraced by the narrator. Creole, in particular, gains his name by providing a parental figure to Sonny. He usurps the place that otherwise would have been filled by Sonny's nameless father.
Furthermore, Sonny's individualism is a direct result of his unhappiness with conventional life. As a young man, Sonny is unable to get along with his father. He hates his home and school. His creative interest leads him to become isolated from his brother, who feels threatened by "his jazz-oriented life style and his continued attraction to Greenwich Village" (Albert 179). By the beginning of the story, Sonny has rejected his family and his home, constructing a new life as a musician and drug peddler in a new location foreign to...

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