Throughout James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”,darkness is used as a symbol to represent both the dangers and hardships facedby African Americans. The narrator describes this darkness as being unavoidable.He talks about his students saying that “all they really knew were two darknesses, thedarkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness ofthe movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness” (Baldwin, 123).
Hisstudents are beginning to realize the race related challenges that lie ahead ofthem and the limited opportunities they will have merely because they areAfrican American. The narrator questions whether or not his students mayalready be using drugs, just as his brother Sonny was at that age stating, “hereI was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them forall I know, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe itdid more for them than algebra could” (Baldwin, 123).As bothSonny and the narrator are driving towards Harlem, the narrator once again referencesthis darkness, describing that the streets “begin to darken with dark people”(Baldwin, 129). The narrator also makes note of the fact that not much aboutHarlem has changed since he and Sonny’s childhood, stating that “… housesexactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactlylike the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses,came down into the streets for light and air, and found themselves encircled bydisaster”(Baldwin, 128).
Ironically enough, both Sonny and the narratorhad a chance to escape and flee Harlem and never return when they both enlistedin the military, but somehow, they have both ended up back here.While in some ways the narrator seems to haveescaped the unavoidable darkness by not falling into an addiction of drugs, herealizes that his children are now facing the same darkness and challenges he oncefaced, and that this inevitable cycle is continuing from generation togeneration. “The darkness outside is what the old folks have beentalking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure.
The childknows that they won’t talk any more because if he knows too much about what’shappened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s goingto happen to him” (Baldwin, 131). The sense of certainty of what isdestined to happen shows that these individuals have surrendered themselves tothe darkness. They have chosen to address the darkness by ignoring it because theyfear that there’s nothing that they can do about it.