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Drug Theme in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

“Don’t worry. I’m all right now and I think I’ll be all right. But I can’t forget-where I’ve been. I don’t mean just the physical place I’ve been, I mean where I’ve been. And what I’ve been.” – Sonny.

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Kicking the habit of taking in drugs – in this case, heroin – is one endeavor which is quite difficult to tackle, especially if the person enjoys what he is doing and doesn’t want to leave the habit. To convince him or her to change his mind won’t do much either.

Quitting a habit requires the strong will of a person. It is an endeavor which requires the strength of the mind to withstand temptations anytime, anywhere. It is indeed never easy to give something up.

For example, Garfield wouldn’t want to quit eating lasagna because this feline likes it very much. A teenager or anyone who goes gaga over anything associated with a favorite personality won’t quit the habit of collecting items that easily. On the other hand, smokers won’t easily give up on smoking, nor would alcoholics. It would be even much more difficult for drug dependents to do the same.

At the beginning of the story, there was a question that his elder brother, who is also the narrator, had in his mind. His conversation with Sonny’s friend pointed to whether Sonny will really quit it or “work his way back in again.” Sonny’s friend felt responsible for what was happening to Sonny because it was he who told him that taking heroine felt great.

Sonny, although he knew the consequences or sufferings that will follow his actions, seemed to have no effect on him at all. He claimed that he can handle himself, whatever the results that will follow. He felt confident of himself even though he knew that death is following him wherever he went.

Before he had decided to push through with the habit, he demonstrated several actions to prevent going back to his “previous life.” Ever since he, along with the others who were caught by the police in a drug raid convinced himself he won’t. He exclaimed in a letter he sent to his elder brother that he would “rather blow his brains off rather than go through this again.” After he was released, he had looked older and thinner; therefore, pointing out that he really went through a lot.

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Enduring and withstanding the challenges that came after was not at all easy. After all that he had gone through, he wanted to get away, even came to a point of deciding to stay away from Harlem. He was earnest at this. He had exerted efforts to prevent this from happening again.

He engaged himself into music since he had decided that he wanted to be a musician. He admires Bird, also known as Charlie Parker whom he acknowledges as one of the greatest jazz musicians. To follow his dream, he studied and trained himself to become a good pianist. He was put in the care of Isabel’s household of which he hesitated at first. Since he was told that Isabel has a piano, he gave in to his elder brother’s decision. He played the piano and even bought a record player to aid him in his endeavors.

There was a drawback to his fondness of playing the piano. Too much of a good thing is not good at all. A time came when Isabel felt that the sounds that Sonny made do not make sense not only to her but to her family as well. “They began, in a way, to be afflicted by this presence that was living in their home.” They could not tell whether they were living with a god or a monster. She said this in a confession that she made to her husband. Nevertheless, they continued to feed him, made sacrifices, gave him a decent home.

Something that is being done privily will eventually be one day discovered. The narrator, Isabela and her family thought that Sonny was doing okay. They didn’t have the slightest idea that Sonny’s doing something wrong. That day came: the day Isabel’s mother received a letter from the school board stating that Sonny hasn’t been attending his classes. They were surprised to hear this. More so, prior to them receiving the letter, Sonny had been tearing up the letters that arrived. Once they questioned him, they had found out that Sonny had been going elsewhere. He had been “spending time with other musicians and other characters, in a white girls apartment.”

After this incident, Sonny takes off to join the navy. This was one decision that he made to get away from Harlem. This incident showed his decisiveness to quit the habit. Regrettably, upon his return, he sees a reason to continue even though he knows the consequences of his actions. He likes playing jazz, the only problem is, he likes to play it while he is under the influence of heroin during the performance.

His elder brother on the other hand, has been trying time after time to convince Sonny to change his ways. He even tried to persuade him to change but it seems that his efforts are in vain, mainly due to the strong inclination of Sonny to continue. There were several instances wherein he would have arguments with him. In the end, after several trials and arguments, he accepts Sonny’s invitation to come with him to a bar. It is in this place where he sees, for the first time, a performance where Sonny plays his blues. The elder brother finally understands as to why his younger brother is acting like this. All those sufferings: himself, his mother’s, his father’s. As what his elder brother in the story asked: “What have you been, Sonny?”

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