Baldwin turned toward literary criticism as he struggled to make a career for himself as a writer.
Frustrated with life in America, Baldwin left New York for Paris, where he met some of the most noted writers and philosophers of the era, including Saul Bellows and the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre.
Nonetheless, the stories in the collection, “Sonny’s Blues” in particular, demonstrate Baldwin’s ability to transform his social and political concerns into art.
In “Sonny’s Blues,” Baldwin takes on Harlem’s deterioration, religion, drug addiction, and post–World War II America all at the same time.
“Sonny’s Blues” was one of Baldwin’s earliest short stories.
Originally published in the Partisan Review in 1957, “Sonny’s Blues” follows the narrator as he comes to discover who his drug-addicted, piano-playing younger brother, Sonny, truly is.
The story, like the characters in it, literally struggles under the weight of so much pressure.
In his later years, Baldwin spent less of his time in America.
The narrator repeatedly associates light with the desire to articulate or give form to the needs and passions that arise out of inner darkness.
He also opposes light as an idea of order to darkness in the world, the chaos that adults endure, but of which they normally cannot speak to children.