Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 5 | Words: 1366
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

In “Sonny’s Blues”, James Baldwin talks about two brothers who have different experiences and passions in life. The story is about Sonny, a young musician from Harlem, and his older brother. Sonny, while being on his music adventure, abuses drugs and is hooked up to heroin. He is arrested for selling and taking heroin. After he is released from prison, Sonny goes back to his childhood neighborhood, and moves in with his older brother and his family. The following story involves a very tense climate and profound anger between the two, but later on, they reconnect and accept each other. Sonny welcomes his brother to a club to watch him play piano and perform. He is pleased by what Sonny does at the club, and promises himself to continue taking care of him. The book is mainly about drugs, family music and the urge to overcome life struggles. The brothers argue about issues and disagree on perspectives. Each one of them tries to convince the other why certain things in life happen. Each one of them has a different opinion on the issues of life affecting them. However, Sonny lives more in accordance to Socrates maxim that “not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued”. Life is good and worthy living if all people accept one’s opinions and desires.

Socrates is well known for his philosophical maxims and critical thinking about issues that affect the society. Indeed, history and philosophy professionals define Socrates’ life and ideologies as being a masterpiece of society and life. In one critical occasion, “not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued” ideology is heavily employed, a dialogue between Crito and Socrates occurs in a prison cell, awaiting execution of Socrates. Crito and a few other men have arranged to smuggle Socrates away from the cell before execution to a safe exile. However, Socrates is not interested in the plan to escape. He is willing to wait for his eminent execution instead. Crito presents many arguments to Socrates to persuade him to accept escaping. According to Crito, Socrates death will have a negative reflection since people will think that his friends did nothing to save him. Crito says to Socrates that he should not worry about the financial risk to his friends, since they are willing to pay and find him a safe and comfortable exile. Crito further gives more pressing arguments; that if he stayed, he would have helped his enemies to wrong him unjustly, and therefore acting unjustly to himself. Another argument is that he would be abandoning his children, leaving them without a father. However, Socrates says to Crito that he should not worry about public opinion, but only listen to wise and expert advice. Socrates tells Crito that people should not be concerned with other people’s reputations, but should rather consider themselves behaving well. He tells Crito that what concerns him is whether it would be just to escape. According to Socrates, if it were just to escape, he would go with Crito but if not, he would remain in prison. Socrates maxim is well explained in “Sonny’s Blues”.

One major theme that is discovered in the book is imprisonment, which goes in hand with Socrates maxims. Sonny looks to be trapped physically and emotionally as he struggles to break himself from various challenges in his life. He is physically imprisoned with his addiction to drugs. The narrator, who is the Sonny’s brother, is also enclosed to Harlem and thus is unable to express his feelings or follow the obligations as a parent and a brother. Thereby, within the Socrates maxims, “not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued”, there is no reality and justice to live imprisoned in the addiction to drugs or expression. Sonny’s drug addiction does not justify his trapping. The society should create space for everyone, and all citizens should follow laws to the latter. The selling and abuse of drugs by Sonny is a crime to the country, since his actions break the law. Therefore, he deserves a punishment. In reality, one should live a life that could be believed to be as per the societal morals and rules. Hence, to live a just life is the best decision. However, both Sonny and the narrator seem overly imprisoned in the unjust life in regard to Socrates’ situation. In Sonny’s case, it is his decision to break from the imprisonment and start a new life without drugs. He could begin anew as a singer. Therefore, there is a sense of good life after prison and starting to sing. However, Sonny’s addiction to drugs does not justify his trapping. The society should create space for everyone, and all citizens must follow laws to the latter. The selling and abuse of drugs by Sonny is a crime to the country. Therefore, he deserves a punishment.

In the Socrates and Crito conversation, Socrates talks much about obligation and responsibility. Indeed, the narrator was charged with the obligation of taking care of Sonny, in essence he was to become his brother’s keeper. Sonny and the narrator fight and the brother ends up throwing out Sonny. It can be concluded that the narrator is throwing away the obligations as a big brother. Without a doubt, under any circumstances, even wrong and bad, an individual has the responsibility to do what is right as Socrates claims. If you live in this society, then one should abide by societal morals and laws. Therefore, by ignoring his brother the narrator broke all other laws. Sonny is a representative of a situation that many people find themselves in. It feels bad if individuals do not express their feelings and believe that they are taken seriously. Sonny feels frustrated that his brother does not support his desire to pursue music. Common to young adults, there are a bunch of circumstances that Sonny feels constrained to. The young adults are not given the chance to decide on what they want to pursue in their lives. There is always interference from parents and the older members of the community. Their opinions are not respected and taken seriously by the society, since they are perceived not to have the brains to know what is good for them. Socrates says that people should be concerned with life that makes them happy and fulfilled. However, in doing so, people should behave well and not inflict pain on other individuals. All citizens, in their adventure to fulfill their desires, should follow laws.

As Socrates explained, when people go against the laws of the country, they should get punishment. Sonny was punished for selling and abusing drugs. According to Socrates, all citizens have to follow the laws of the country. In his quote, “not life, but good life, is chiefly valued”, Socrates introduces the laws of Athens, and describes why it would be unjust to escape the prison. The philosopher argues that the laws of Athens exist as one entity, meaning that breaking one of them equals to breaking all of them. In escaping the cell, Socrates would be doing a great harm to country’s laws. The citizens should be bound to the laws as a child is bound to a parent. Socrates opinion is that instead of breaking the rules to escape, he should consider persuading the laws to let him go. Socrates believes that the laws are like contracts of the citizens of the country. Therefore, by deciding to live in Athens, he implicitly endorses the laws and should try to abide by them. Socrates says that if he escapes the prison, he would have validated his social contract; therefore, making himself an outlaw who would never be welcomed in any civilized state for the rest of his life. After he dies, Socrates would be harshly judged in the underworld for being unjust towards his city’s laws. Crito is convinced that he should not help Socrates escape the prison. Thereby, the narrator and Sonny’s experiences present an opportunity to define life as living in a better manner. Even after mistakes and laws broke both characters, they still find their way and define their lives differently. They manage to rise and live according to societal expectations and laws.

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