Sonny’s Blues Notes

Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Taken from Call and Response,The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition 

“They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at one more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.” (1299)

“It was not the joyous laughter which-God knows why-one associates with children. It was mocking and insular, its intent to denigrate. It was disenchanted, and in this, also, lay the authority of their curses.” (1299)

“When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still-struggling woman beneath the battered face of a semi-whore.” (1300)

“This life, whatever it was, had made him older and thinner and it had deepened the distant stillness in which he had always moved.” (1302)

“It’s always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.” (1302)

“And thank God she was there, for I was filled with that icy dread again. Everything I did seemed awkward to me, and everything I said sounded freighted with hidden meaning.” (1303)

“It doesn’t do any good to fight with Sonny. Sonny just moves back, inside himself, where he can’t be reached.” (1303)

“Everyone is looking at something a child can’t see.” (1304)

“The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure. The child knows that they won’t talk any more because if he knows too much about what’s happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going to happen to him.” (1304)

“Till the day he died he weren’t sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother.” (1305)

“I ain’t telling you all this,” she said, “to make you scared or bitter or to make you hate nobody. I’m telling you this because you got a brother. And the world ain’t changed.” (1305)

“You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there.” (1306)

No, I don’t know that,” said Sonny, surprising me. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?” (1307)

“His face relaxed a lift. But the worry, the thoughtfulness, played on it still, the way shadows play on a face which is staring into the fire.” (1308)

“He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all.” (1308)

“They fed him and he ate, he washed himself, he walked in and out of their door; he certainly wasn’t nasty or unpleasant or rude, Sonny isn’t any of those things; but it was as though he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fire, some vision all his own; and there wasn’t any way to reach him.” (1308)

“No, there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem–well, like you. Like you did something, all right, and now you’re suffering for it. You know?” I said nothing. Well you know,” he said impatiently, “why do people suffer? Maybe it’s better to do something to give it a reason, any reason.” (1312)

“And I wanted to promise that I would never fail him again. But it would all have sounded—empty words and lies.” (1312)

“But I can’t forget—where I’ve been. I don’t mean just thep physical place I’ve been, I mean where I’ve been. And what I’ve been.” (1313)

“Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triump is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” (1315)

“Then he stepped back, very slowly, filling the air with the immense suggestion that Sonny speak for himself.” (1315)

“Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.” (1316)

“And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched about us, longer than the sky.” (1316)


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