Throughout James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”,
darkness is used as a symbol to represent both the dangers and hardships faced
by African Americans. The narrator describes this darkness as being unavoidable.

He talks about his students saying that “all they really knew were two darknesses, the
darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of
the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness” (Baldwin, 123). His
students are beginning to realize the race related challenges that lie ahead of
them and the limited opportunities they will have merely because they are
African American. The narrator questions whether or not his students may
already be using drugs, just as his brother Sonny was at that age stating, “here
I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for
all I know, be popping off needles every time they went to the head. Maybe it
did more for them than algebra could” (Baldwin, 123).

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As both
Sonny and the narrator are driving towards Harlem, the narrator once again references
this darkness, describing that the streets “begin to darken with dark people”
(Baldwin, 129). The narrator also makes note of the fact that not much about
Harlem has changed since he and Sonny’s childhood, stating that “… houses
exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly
like 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 by
disaster”(Baldwin, 128). Ironically enough, both Sonny and the narrator
had a chance to escape and flee Harlem and never return when they both enlisted
in the military, but somehow, they have both ended up back here.

While in some ways the narrator seems to have
escaped the unavoidable darkness by not falling into an addiction of drugs, he
realizes that his children are now facing the same darkness and challenges he once
faced, and that this inevitable cycle is continuing from generation to
generation. “The darkness outside is what the old folks have been
talking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure. The child
knows that they won’t talk any more because if he knows too much about what’s
happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going
to happen to him” (Baldwin, 131). The sense of certainty of what is
destined to happen shows that these individuals have surrendered themselves to
the darkness. They have chosen to address the darkness by ignoring it because they
fear that there’s nothing that they can do about it.