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Baldwain’s “Sonny’s Blues” vs. Saunders’ “Sticks”

In a family setup, one always encounters situations where the relationship between close relatives becomes emotionally distant. Although parental love is always inherent, children tend to misconstrue their fathers’ reactions toward them. Parents, especially fathers, often try to anchor and remind the rest of their role as the head of the family, which does not resonate well with the other family members, especially the children. “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin and “Sticks” by George Saunders tell the same story and are, at the same time, different. Both stories feature fathers who hurt their children even without the intention to do so. Despite thematic similarities, such as the focus on family conflicts, “Sticks” exemplifies abuse in the form of excessive strictness and emotional neglect, while “Sonny’s Blues” showcases the unfavorable consequences of breaking children’s dreams.

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The works have a certain thematic likelihood by depicting fathers who prioritize interests in a way that is not conducive to their children’s wellbeing. In “Sonny’s Blues,” the father denies his children an opportunity to move to a safe neighborhood by iterating that there is “no place safe for kids” (Baldwin 26). Being in an economically challenging situation, this man seems to be unwilling to overcome his childhood traumas. He fails to cope with despair for his children, including giving up drinking to have more money to invest in his son’s safety. Similarly, “Sticks” reveals the father’s indifference toward his children’s needs paired with a strange obsession over decorating his favorite pole as if it was a living object that could appreciate his attention (Saunders 1). In this story, the father treats the pole with strange respect, whereas his children deal with endless reproaches and criticism and are denied the simplest joys of childhood, such as drawing tools or ice cream (Saunders 1). Thus, although dealing with dissimilar challenges in life, both fathers have some energy but eventually stress other things aside from their children’s healthy development.

Next, both stories depict family conflicts, but their nature and the involved parties’ motives are diverse. “Sonny’s Blues” concentrates on the misunderstanding between the narrator and his young brother Sonny related to the latter’s decision to become a jazz musician. The narrator adopts a realistic viewpoint and tries to convince the brother that continuing his education is a better choice. With the best of intentions, he claims, “if you don’t finish school now, you are going to be sorry later that you didn’t” (Baldwin 32). Sonny does not embrace the idea, which exacerbates the acrimony between them when he chooses to do it his way.

To continue, in contradistinction from “Sonny’s Blues” with its easy-to-understand interpersonal conflict, “Sticks” features a man whose behaviors are insufficiently explained, which could point at the intrapersonal issue as well. The story revolves around the father’s troubled relationships with the children, including his attempts to vent the anger of unknown genesis on the helpless kids (Saunders 1). The motives behind imposing strict limitations on the children are quite unclear. For instance, the father reprimands the kids for pouring as much ketchup as they want, but the family’s poverty that could explain this is never mentioned (Saunders 1). The father’s obsession with his pole might leave the reader puzzled. Specifically, there is no information on the man’s childhood, early life, or mental health diagnoses that could provide an insight into the causes of his strange hobby. Even the narrator, one of this man’s children, highlights that the logic behind the father’s actions involving the pole becomes “less discernible” as he ages (Saunders 1). One suggestion is that the father has a condition affecting his emotional expression, but its causes are an open question.

Another viable point of comparison is whether the story is told by the affected party. The language of “Sonny’s Blues” has a shade of repentance as it is told by a man who failed to take care of his younger brother after their mother’s death. Although the older brother lives a successful life with a good job and a family of his own, his brother Sonny indulges in drug peddling and use, thus becoming a marginalized person. The man explains how he has little hopes of his brother changing his habits, turning around his life, and becoming the venerable person he once thought he was. The older brother explains that “Sonny was wild, but he wasn’t crazy,” which implies that the external influences could have exacerbated his self-control (Baldwin 18). Therefore, this story is told on behalf of the party that inflicted harm.

In contrast to that, “Sticks” illustrates the long-term consequences of being hurt as a child. The story is narrated by the main character’s adult son, that cannot forget the hardships of his childhood. The man still misunderstands his father’s hatred toward him and his siblings. He describes how his father’s love redirected to a pole has significantly affected their lives, leading to virtually no emotional connection with the family after the mother’s death. The father spends most of the time giving the pole preferential treatment while sidelining his children, thus inflicting pain and hatred on them without knowing.

Finally, the two short stories, “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin and “Sticks” by George Saunders, describe the fathers that make their families suffer. The literary works also talk about how family members have been deeply ingrained in conflicts that eventually disrupt family unity. “Sonny’s Blues” narrates how the characters deal with the personal loss of their loved ones and how they adjust to life without these individuals. At the same time, “Sticks” speaks of children hurt by their father’s unhealthy decision to divert attention away from the family.

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Works Cited

Baldwain, James. “Sonnys Blues.” The Jazz Fiction Anthology, edited by Sascha Feinstein and David Rif, Indiana Up, 2009, pp. 7-48.

Saunders, George. “Sticks.” 102 Fiction, 2017, Web.

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