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Sonny's Blues Research Papers

American literature courses frequently study the works of James Baldwin in order for students to understand the importance of his writing to black history. Research papers on Sonny's Blues are assigned to have the writer reflect on the lives of two African American brothers and poverty. Whatever the theme you need to examine within the novel, have the writers at Paper Masters explicate Baldwin's thesis, plot or characters in a custom written research paper from Paper Masters.

James Baldwin’s short story Sonny’s Blues is, among other things, an examination of the relationship between human interiors and the exterior world in which they exist.

  • The two main characters, Sonny and his brother, the narrator, are black men living in Harlem in the middle of the last century.
  • Their community is predominantly black, poor, and struggling to find hope. It exists as almost a segregated urban island in a racially charged white sea. 
  • Inside of these two men, and by extension of all people, is the search for personal identity. They try to balance the relationship between this inner turmoil with their bleak surroundings.

For a research paper, you may have to write an analysis of the character Sonny, from James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny'’s Blues.” Your essay must trace the evolution of the character as he moves through the various stages of the plot.  So you will need to write with an awareness of both plot structure and character development.  Your essay must have a thesis statement which responds to the following questions: How does the protagonist of “Sonny’s Blues” change at the climax of the story and what is the significance of this change? 

A note about organization: We strongly recommend that you use the plot structure of the story to help you organize the structure of your essay.  In other words, after the introduction you can set up a first body paragraph that looks at the story’s exposition or inciting event.  Then move on to several paragraphs that deal with the rising action of the story.  This section on the analysis of the rising action should take up the most space in your essay.  In other words, this will be the longest section of your paper.

Here are some more ideas on what to write on regarding Sonny's Blues:Sonny's Blue

  • Compare or contrasting the symbols, settings, and titles in each story.
    • How are they similar or different in revealing the themes?
  • Compare or contrast characters from the story.
    • Discuss how the characters are similar or different in their motives, actions, outcomes of the stories.
  • Compare or contrast the writers’ approaches to plot focusing on the conflict and resolution.
  • Present evidence from the literary texts to support all of your claims.
  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of style and the ability to analyze the construct.

Sonny is the younger musician brother of the narrator, and when the story opens he has just gotten arrested for drug use. The narrator reads about Sonny’s arrest in the newspaper while traveling in a subway car, and the complex relationship between him and his surroundings is first described: “I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside”. Later, at the high-school where he is a teacher, the news of his brother sits inside him like a “great block of ice” . It is a hard, cold weight that melts without losing size.

He ruminates that Sonny was probably not much older than his students when he first tried heroin. And in looking out at his students, he sees the same inner rage set against the dingy, gray background of their city. Their favorite form of escape is the movie theater, and it serves as a fine metaphor for the struggle that each individual child has with the outside world:

All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.

The boys are at once sharing a common experience and at the same time are having a solitary experience. It is the same duality that we see with Sonny and his brother. Their struggle is not solely with the society around them but also with themselves and the manner in which they transition from their inner lives to their external lives. It is often this flow between the internal and the external that is so hard to navigate.

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