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Eng 1020


Featured writer James Baldwin

This week students will read and discuss what most literary critics believe to be Baldwin's finest short story, "Sonny's Blues." It is extremely important that you consider perusing my posted lecture notes on Baldwin (found under lecture notes in our course menu) before you read this story. Here you will find valuable information about Baldwin's life, influences, and themes. Just as we saw how historical context informs our interpretation of Chopin's work, so shall we see context functioning in much the same way with "Sonny's Blues"---Baldwin writes and sets this story in 1957. Although many elements of the story are autobiographical in nature (for example, the narrator’s dismal views of Harlem were influenced by Baldwin’s own experiences in New York,) the unnamed narrator is not Baldwin—it is a character/persona created by Baldwin to present his story.Attached Files:

As you read "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, it is important to keep in mind several things: 1) the historical context of the story (1957); 2) the autobiographical details of Baldwin's life that he weaves into the story--setting the narrative in Harlem where Baldwin grew up, focusing the narrative around the conflicts between brothers (Baldwin was greatly influenced by family ties and resulting complexities); and the all-important presence of 3) music/jazz within the story (the blues/jazz scene affected Baldwin greatly and he came to use music as a metaphor for the struggle of humanity).

Please click on the link entitled "James Baldwin link" beneath the Week Three lecture notes heading. Here you will find valuable insights into Baldwin's philosophies and influences that are important to know as we explore his literature. On this link you will find frank and colorful quotes made by Baldwin, historical influences on his work, common themes found in his literature that we'll be applying to "Sonny's Blues," as well as a helpful critical reading study guide to refer to as you read this narrative.

OPTIONAL SUPPLEMENTATION/READING: I've also posted a wonderful lecture by scholars Anne Fleischman and Andy Jones (taken from their lecture "Jazz and Literature"). Here they give an insightful look into the socio-historical setting of Harlem in the 1950's with its jazz music and racial politics. There is also a strong overview of Sonny as emblamatic of the blues musician, his brother (the narrator) as well as some meditation on Baldwin's final scene.

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Just what I needed…Fantastic!


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