10 December 2017
of “Sonny’s Blues” and “Everyday Use”
In the late 1990s, there was an imminent
campaign against racism which was rampant in many American states. People used
various means to air their grievances to the government. Mainly, people of the
Africa American origin engaged in antisocial behaviors which they thought were
based on their African heritage. As portrayed in “Sonny’s Blues” by James
Baldwin and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, many young African Americans ruined
their lives in the quest for freedom using their
livelihood. Primarily, these two books
have a lot of similarities based on their settings and the dynamics that
narrators present the characters. Further, the authors have depicted the
parental role in the preservation of their cultural heritage and unity among
their families in the society. The rationale of this essay, therefore, is to give a critical comparative analysis of the
two short stories.
The irony in both books is the relationship of the two siblings as
portrayed. The two stories use a scenario in which siblings are divided on
matters of heritage. Those characters who want to adopt the traditional African
lifestyle seem to lose their heritage.
However, those who are quiet, do not reject their heritage. For
instance, Sonny wants to play jazz because of its association with the Africa-American origin. Although he looks to jazz music as a
connection to his heritage, he ends up hanging with the wrong people in a bad
stage of his life and becomes a drug addict.
Music was the only way Sonny felt he could really express his himself. Music later became one of the factors that
helped him to overcome his addiction. Throughout
the book, his family had a hard time understanding this, most especially his
brother, the narrator. On the other
hand, Dee wants to abandon her dressing code and her name so that she can
incorporate the African culture into her life. Her sister Maggie does not exaggerate
the situation and acclimates better into the culture than Dee. For Dee, she is confused
in thinking that changing her dressing and her name will change the presence of
the white man as their superiors. Therefore, the two stories portray the
struggle for freedom for Africa-American people through a change of their
lifestyle as a self-harm to their life.
both stories, parents play a significant role to enhance siblings’
relationships. The mothers want their young ones protected by the elder
siblings in the family. The narrator in “Sonny Blues” reflects about when his
mother was alive. She used to ask him to
take care of his younger brother. She
did this in hopes of avoiding a situation of being oppressed by white men
similar to that of their father. Their
father suffered greatly in his life due to his brothers’ death caused by a
white man. On the other hand, in “Everyday Use” Dee’s mother believed that she
should take care of her sister, Maggie. She is disappointed when Dee demands to
receive the quilt which had been given to Maggie. “Dee returns to claim her heritage from her
mother in the form of “folk art”(Showalter). She argues with Dee on the issue and tells her
that she cannot take the quilts that are already owned by Maggie. Therefore,
mothers are portrayed as a unifying figure that care about the actions of their
children. The mothers in both stories try to strengthen
their families by creating a close knit bond through their protection of each
The two stories, “Sonny Blues”
by James Baldwin and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker portray an image of the
struggles of Africa-American people. Further, it shows the problems that they
undergo in the different culture that they are exposed. It also shows the many ways in which the
people in this culture struggle to get their freedom from the white man
oppressors (Walker, 1973).
In “Sonny Blues” the brothers grew up in
Harlem, which despite changing dramatically during the Harlem Renaissance, still
experienced oppression and remained impoverished. The settings of the
two-stories show struggle for equality for the Africa-Americans who end up
losing contact with the people they live with as they struggle with the issues
of society and their culture.
The narrators of both stories
portray oppression of black people in the American culture. Increasingly, the
narrators are against cultural change as it is a vice that leads people to
suffer rather than improving their lifestyle. As described in “Sonny Blues” the
narrator is well composed and has a good understanding of the white man’s
culture while his brother has faced many challenges fighting for his place in
the society. In “Everyday Use” the
narrator describes a culture where education makes one change their lifestyle
contrary to the social norms. Dee wants
to change her name because she thinks that the white man has oppressed the
black people. The change leads to a negative relationship with the people in
society who are of the same origin rather than different than the white man (Baldwin, 1957).
Dee and Sonny are portrayed as using same
strategies while addressing racism. They use their personal lives to ensure
that they have delivered themselves the freedom the white man has denied them.
Sonny sees the society that he is brought up in as embodied by poverty. He
joins the army to ensure that he is out of this society. On the other hand, Dee
despises the house that they live as it burns down. Her quest for education and
changing of her name is to ensure that she is not enslaved in the society thus
changing her lifestyle and, hopefully, her future as well.
The similarities in both books are used to
reflect the challenges that Africa-Americans face daily. Throughout the
stories, it is explained why many people of this culture end up in crimes.
Their quest for freedom and their heritage has driven many to have certain
behaviors that have negative effects on their lives. Finally, the books
conclude with the conflicts that emerge as people take different heritage stands.
It is difficult for people within our
society to balance their heritage and cultural differences with the challenges
of incorporating into mainstream customs and acceptable ways of life. It is important for people to embrace their
personal cultures and adopt common practices to create a more complete
lifestyle. Sometimes this will require
us to challenge common practices and traditions that are taught to us. This is something that will continue for
years to come as we overcome prejudices and oppression in our society and throughout
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s
Blues.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction,
Poetry, Drama, and Writing, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, Custom
Edition for Anne Arundel Community College, 2nd ed., Part 1: Fiction, Pearson,
Showalter, Elaine. “Quilt as Metaphor in “Everyday
Use.” Literature: An Introduction to
Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia,
Custom Edition for Anne Arundel Community College, 2nd ed., Part 1: Fiction,
Pearson, 2013, 505-507.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Literature: An
Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, edited by X.J. Kennedy
and Diana Gioia, Custom Edition for Anne Arundel Community College, 2nd
ed., Part: Fiction, Pearson, 2013, 491-497.