“Sonny’s Blues” Vs. “The Rockpile” Essay
“Sonny’s Blues” Vs. “The Rockpile” Essay

“Sonny’s Blues” Vs. “The Rockpile” Essay

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  • Pages: 4 (944 words)
  • Published: January 21, 2022
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“Sonny’s Blues” and “The Rockpile” are all centered on the theme of racism. However, in Sonny’s Blues, racism triggers Sonny to fight for himself whereas in “The Rockpile”, it triggers pain, frustration and anger specifically to John. Not only does Baldwin creates a brilliant portrait of life in Harlem in “The Rockpile” but also illustrates the restrained hatred directed towards stepchildren. On the other hand, “Sonny’s Blue” characters address detailed racial issues in regards to the human condition where for instance the main characters scuffle through an irrational world without any inherent meaning and at the same time struggling to preserve themselves in a society where racism is highly tolerated. All in all, Baldwin establishes the harmful impacts if racism not only on the characters but also the entire community. This


paper thus aims at linking “The Rockpile” and “Sonny’s Blues” by examining the manner in which the characters are trying to figure out who they really are in a world dominated by discrimination.

In “Sonny’s Blues”, the main character is constantly troubled by the burden of not only being poor but also being black and at the same time trapped in the confines of the community. The fact that Sonny is fully aware of the limits and obstacles in his community prompts him to struggle to confront the stereotypes by relocating from Harlem to begin a new career as a musician. By escaping from the traditional disorder in the community, Sonny deliberated that he would comprehend who he was. However, he is literally imprisoned. The narrator deems him as a “caged animal” trying to break free. In the same manner, the main character in “The

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Rockpile”, John, is struggling to comprehend who he really is as he is deemed as a stranger in the family owing to the fact that he was born out of wedlock. For instance, when Roy is hurt while playing in the Rock pile, the father coddles him. Baldwin reveals that John’s “face ran in blood” when Roy got hurt as he was playing as the actions of his stepbrother subjected him to violence (Baldwin 18). John is however blamed for the actions of his step brother. John is thus acting as the scapegoat of the family by taking the blames of the actions of his brother as well as being the focus of Gabriel’s detestation upon his mother. However, unlike Sonny in “Sonny’s Blues” who actually took a step to get away from the oppression he faced, John is fully confined in the ruthlessness of his father as he did not take a step to get away from the oppressing family. In both cases however, Baldwin demonstrates the destructive effects caused by racism in that while Sonny struggled to settle in another society and start a new career away from his home, John struggled to avoid emotional and physical pain by trying to help his brother live in accordance to their father’s will.

The tough living standards in America at great extent helped in shaping the characters of both “The Rockpile” and “Sonny’s Blues”. A lot of “Sonny’s Blues” as depicted in Baldwin’s book results from the conditions lived by the African American as regardless of the fact that Baldwin represents racism as the main theme, Sonny’s story focuses on the separation in the American life

by the whites and the blacks. This is depicted by the fact that Sonny’s brother had to continue enduring the harsh conditions of violent and poverty in the neighborhood (Baldwin 112). Additionally, his efforts to provide himself a good and better lifestyle did not bear any fruits, thus an evidence of Baldwin’s puzzling of social stigma in the lifestyles of the Africans living in America. On the other hand, “The Rockpile” also depicts that tough living standards in America shaped the characters of the novel. Baldwin systematically relates the vigorous relationship between the living standards of the blacks in Harlem during the Civil War Movement where the environment especially for the blacks is full of risks. This environment is what triggers cases of violence as evidenced in the relationships of the characters as well as their personalities that often erupts between children. For instance, Roy and John are from the start reproved to avoiding the Rockpile.

In both “Sonny’s Blues” and “The Rockpile”, the conflict between light and darkness is paired with inner and external conflict. For instance, the main issue with Sonny being an artist is the fact that he was full of the need to embrace his human passion such that he would have the feeling of not only being complete but also free. To do this, he had to bring out the “storm” by achieving inventive control over it and articulating it to the outside audience. The inside opposition is reflected by the family as well as the predacious nature of the world. On the other hand, John rejects his childish nature as evidenced in fearing to play with Roy to evade being

punished by his father.
In conclusion, it is evident that characters in both stories depict the impacts of discrimination on Africans that help in shaping their character traits. Particularly, the two stories reveal that violence and oppression is what triggers the assumed self-destruction as well as the abuse that prompts the characters especially John and Sonny to endeavor to figure out who they are.

Work Cited

  1. Baldwin, James. "Rockpile." In James Baldwin. Going To Meet The Man: Stories. New York: Vintage, 1995, pp. 13-26.
  2. Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." In James Baldwin. Going To Meet The Man: Stories. New York: Vintage, 1995, pp. 102-142.
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