In the mid-1900s , Harlem, New York was a city of segregation and limited rights of the African American people. Following the devastation that came with the Great Depression, riots began to bloom amongst black communities experiencing the pressure of high rents, unemployment and racist practices(History of Harlem 6). Throughout all of this suffering experienced by the African American culture, music played a major role in their attempt to cope.
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In James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues jazz music is revealed to be the one thing that keeps the African American culture thriving. This is emphasized in the story through the characters actions which prove the only cure to their external and internal conflicts is music, therefore it becomes an inseparable part of their culture. Sonny’s blues begins in medias res when the narrator discovers his brothers arrest in the newspaper. He explains his face as trapped in the darkness which roared outside(Baldwin 1). With this quote it can be inferred that the narrator is undergoing and an internal conflict and an external conflict simultaneously.
The first mention of music in Sonny’s Blues was when Baldwin wrote One boy was whistling a tune, at once very complicated and very simple, it seemed to be pouring out of him like a bird(Baldwin 7). This extract begins to demonstrate the essential idea of the story, that jazz music is portrayed as an inseparable aspect of the African American community. This is done by comparing the boy who is whistling to an animal in which whistles as an everyday routine. This comparison defines the fact that it is almost necessary that this boy whistles to get through his day and to keep moving. . In this particular quote, the boy can be viewed as a representation of the black community as a whole, symbolizing the rhythm of their music is the rhythm of their lives. Later in the story, there was another mention of whistling in a flashback of when the narrator got into a fight with his brother Sonny. Baldwin writes I started down the steps, whistling to keep from crying, I kept on whistling to myself, You going to need me, baby, one of these cold, rainy days(Baldwin 176).This cite is another way of explaining how whistling is a way for the culture to keep their mood up. Therefore, these two quotes can be portrayed as examples of music being a breakthrough from the everyday suffering experienced by the African American people.
The second encounter with music was when the narrator was having a tough conversation about his brother Sonny with someone they grew up with. As the old friend was telling the narrator ain’t nothing you can do. Can’t much help old Sonny no more,
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