The Biblical Fundation of Sonny's Blues

The Biblical Fundation of Sonny's Blues

  • Submitted By: tarley6
  • Date Submitted: 02/21/2013 12:36 PM
  • Category: English
  • Words: 4576
  • Page: 19
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James Tackach


Blues" is James Baldwin's most anthologized and most critically discussed short story. Most critical analyses of "Sonny's Blues" have centered on the story's unnamed narrator's identity issues (Bieganowski, Reid, Murray) and Baldwin's use of blues /jazz music within the story (Jones, Sherard, Byerman, Goldman). Surprisingly, few critical discussions of "Sonny's Blues" have focused on the story's religious themes. Robert Reid, in an article devoted mainly to Baldwin's narrator's identity concerns, compares the narrator to the biblical Ishmael and Sonny to Isaac (444-45); Jim Sanderson discusses the role of grace in the story; and Marlene Mosher, in a very short essay, explicates the biblical allusion in the story's final image — the "cup of trembling" glowing and shaking above Sonny's head as he plays the piano (Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues" 141). But no critical analysis of "Sonny's Blues" has identified the two main biblical texts that form the foundation of Baldwin's story: the Cain and Abel story from the Book of Genesis and the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke's gospel. That Baldwin would use Bible stories as a foundation for his fiction should not be surprising. Like so many Christian African Americans, Baldwin knew the Bible intimately and once claimed, "I was born in the church" ("Notes" 14). Indeed, the King James Bible became his signal literary text during his Harlem childhood. In his biography of Baldwin, James Campbell states that Baldwin's "moral world" was "fortified and sanctioned by generations of deep believers" and that "the vocabulary and cadence of the King James Bible and the rhetoric of the pulpit were at the heart of his literary style" (4). According to Campbell, Baldwin "knew the Bible so well that he coloured his phrases with Old Testament rhetoric and poetry, with full conviction" (10), and Baldwin's "personal theology" was drawn from the Bible (11). Baldwin...

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