Supplementary Discussion of James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues"

  You are not assigned a specific question to answer in supplementary discussion, but feel free to use any of the question below or create your own. 

You are required to post to 5 supplementary discussions over the course of the semester. You can do more for extra credit, so long as you do it in the scheduled timeframe.

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 


2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?


3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?


4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?


5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?


6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?


7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?


8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?


9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?


10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?


11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?


12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?


  1. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    A: I believe this story endures because of the timelessness of the subject matter and the sensory experience one goes through when reading it. The effectiveness the theme of love and difficulty within the family yields with audiences will never wear off or expire. No matter how the times change, older brothers will still worry about younger brothers in the same way the brothers in this piece do.

    This story is also incredibly evocative. Baldwin's style seems to be to place less emphasis on grammar and more importance behind the emotions one feels as one reads. This successfully connects the reader to the characters, as they feel human and real. Additionally, moments like the scene at the end in the night club insert the reader into the situation through sensory detail, rather than merely describing it.

    1. I agree with everything you said about how evocative it is, without the use of purple language.

  2. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    I think the writer chose this point of view because we get to see how the brother feels internally about his brother and the situations happening. I feel like the point of view helps the reader feel the same emotions and sensory feelings that the main character does. For example, the ending scene in the night club gives so much sensory and metaphorical detail that the reader can place themselves with the characters and understand exactly what was going on.

    1. Agreed. This is one of those stories where it feels impossible to imagine it with a different POV.

  3. I think part of the power and impact of this piece comes from the very human way it tackles the issue of family and addiction. I find that often, those who suffer from addiction are written without compassion or nuance. Baldwin's choice to have the narrator be Sonny's brother allows for both compassion and nuance—as his older brother, the narrator wants what is best for Sonny, loves him deeply, and perhaps puts him in a situation to view the situation with more compassion. But this does not change how Sonny's addiction impacts both of them. Baldwin does a great job balancing between those two facets. Using the family relation to "justify" the narrator's compassion I think allows the reader to "buy in" to a more compassionate view of addiction in general. Even now, addiction is often viewed as a moral failure and character flaw, so to be able to write a story of addiction in 1957 with such grace and nuance afforded to someone struggling with addiction feels like an impressive feat indeed. Translating the pain and struggles of recovering from addiction to music so that Sonny's suffering feels—at least to him—worthwhile is an especially haunting image, and I think speaks to this need for every facet of our existence to be in some way to be productive or generative to justify its existence. As a personal note, I think this is a piece I will have to come back to in a few years, because it feels like there is so much to unlock and unravel here that I can't access through a couple readings at one point in my life.

    1. I am also super impressed by Baldwin's choices and his compassionate and yet realistic depiction of addiction in this story. Well said.

  4. 1. What makes this story "literary"

    The story really focuses on how the narrator feels about his brother Sonny's heroin addiction. In the story it also focuses on the human experience of brotherly bonds and what pushes people away and reconnects them. The story also doesn't follow the typical plot structure that other stories do and is slowly paced. The ending even though it looks like the brothers have made up the ending is still very open considering that after the night they spend together a reader doesn't know what exactly will happen next. As well nothing big or grand happens in the story as it would in a genre fiction, like when the brothers argue there's no real big falling out (like there is in genre fiction) they just loose touch. Them getting back together isn't dramatic either it's very down to earth and real.

    1. Exactly. It is shining a light of part of the human experience, without tangling it up with a more dramatic or flashy plot.


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