James Baldwin (1924-1987) • Born in Harlem, 1924 • Illegitimate • Mother was a domestic worker • Grew up in great poverty • Step-father was a factory worker and store-front preacher • Baldwin himself was a street preacher for a few years • Early work deals with issues of religious identity • Baldwin’s stepfather never fully accepted James, so he always felt like an outsider in the family
James Baldwin (1924-1987) • In 1948, fleeing what he had felt was the poisonous racial atmosphere of the United States, Baldwin moved to France. • Though he remained there for the rest of his life, he did visit the United States periodically, to participate in the Civil Rights movement, and to teach and lecture
“Sonny’s Blues” • “Sonny’s Blues” first published in The Partisan Review in 1957 • Later appeared in his 1965 collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man
“Sonny’s Blues” • Takes place in the mid-1950s, probably during the Korean War • Before the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement • Dark days of segregation • The irony of the family’s urban life • Military service • Life in a housing project
Class Divisions and Racial Politics • The narrator and Sonny can be thought of as representing a divide within the black race during this time period • Middle class vs. lower class • Pragmatist vs. Artist • Belief in the American Dream vs. Disillusion • Which worldview seems to win out in the end?
Jazz • Sonny • Lower class • Musician/Artist • Charlie Parker • Bebop • The Narrator • Middle class • Teacher • Louis Armstrong • “That old-time, down-home crap.”
The end of “Sonny’s Blues” • The narrator and Sonny begin to bridge the gap between them at the end. • The narrator begins to understand Sonny’s music. • 30: “And, while Creole listened…” • 31: “Then they all gathered around Sonny and played…” • What might this symbolize?
32: The “cup of trembling” Isaiah 51: 17-22 • 17Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.[………] 21Therefore hear now this, thou afflicted, and drunken, but not with wine:22Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again:23But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.