James he could find. During this time, Baldwin


James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, to a single mother in Harlem. After his mother married his stepfather David Baldwin, who was a Baptist minister, he was adopted by him. Growing up, he didn’t feel as if he was accepted the way his other siblings were, though. In some of Baldwin stories, they often have a similar story line where it seems he is the less favored child over everyone else. In “Sonny’s Blues,” a similar scenario is presented in some ways. While the unnamed narrator often speaks of Sonny’s and his father’s relationship, he never speaks of his own relationship with his father. Despite not feeling accepted by his stepfather, at a young age, he began to follow in his footsteps. When Baldwin turned 14 until he was 16, he followed in his step fathers tracks and served as a youth minister in a Harlem Pentecostal church. It wasn’t long after he realized he had a passion for reading and an amazing ability to write. After graduating high school in 1942, he had to put his plans to go to college on the back burner, so he could help support his family, which included seven younger siblings. He took whatever job he could find. During this time, Baldwin frequently encountered discrimination because he was African-American. In 1943, Baldwin lost his father and it wasn’t long after that when he decided to move to a neighborhood in New York City that was popular for artists and writers. Baldwin befriended writer Richard Wright, which helped him land a grant that helped him cover his living expenses. Shortly after this, his essays and short stories were beginning to be published which has lead him to be known as one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. Baldwins works played a significant role in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. His stories and essays addressed issues of race, poverty, power and justice.  A short story written by James Baldwin in 1957, named “Sonny’s Blues” is a story of two brothers that live two completely different lives. One of the brothers is an Algebra teacher in Harlem and the other is an aspiring jazz musician turned heroin addict and drug dealer. They are both suffering from the inequalities faced by Americans before and during the Civil Rights Movement. The story starts out with the unnamed narrator, who is the oldest of the two, discovering his brother, Sonny, has been arrested for heroin usage and drug dealing. Understanding the relationship between the brothers, Sonny’s and other musicians drug use and the historical setting of the story are all important to understanding James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.”Music is often known as very important part of African-American culture. In the mid-1940s, there was a new jazz that revolutionized called bebop. In African-American culture, bebop is as significant as the Harlem Renaissance. Bebop was to a large extend, a revolt against swing and the way African-American music had been taken over and diluted by whites. In “Sonny’s Blues,” the narrator relates more to the old Jazz music while Sonny is more interested in the new and upcoming version of bebop. Sonny was very offended when his brother mentioned Louis Armstrong’s name and he immediately corrected him after he was asked about a musician he admired. Sonny quickly told him “Bird! Charlie Parker! Don’t they teach you nothing in the army?” (125) However, in this story the difference between Armstrong and Parker represent something more than just a different type of jazz. It seems as if Sonny prefers someone like Parker because they both suffered from a similar downfall, which was drug and alcohol abuse. “Sonny’s Blues” illustrates jazz musicians use of drugs and the effects of drugs in the 1950s jazz scene and how they believed it helped them fit in.There was and always will be a lot of drugs and alcohol around the music scene. A lot of musicians were deep into drugs, especially heroin. It’s been said that, in some circles musicians were considered hip if they were on drugs. Because of that, jazz and heroin have an interesting relationship, which is also linked together in “Sonny’s Blues.” There are three prominent jazz musicians that I believe played a major role in the music scene when it comes to the music and drugs. These musicians were Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. Charlie Parker who is also known as Bird, is the most talked about case of heroin addiction in the jazz world. Parker is one of the most known jazz musicians and his drug usage, the duration and intensity of it had a rippling effect through the jazz circles. Miles Davis said that “the idea was going around that if you use heroin it might make you play as great as Bird.” In the mid-forties, Parker was the man to make the biggest impression on jazz for young and up-and-coming musicians. Young musicians back then and now believed the best way to achieve success and be as great as Parker was to imitate him, musically and otherwise. What this means is that in majority of the jazz circles and communities, if you wanted people to think you were hip, then you joined them in shooting heroin. And that is exactly what happened in many of the afterhours jam sessions where Bebop was created. This is how Parker passed his addiction on to an entire generation of jazz artists, including Sonny in “Sonny’s Blues.” Parker became addicted to heroin shortly after an automobile accident where he was using to control the pain from the injuries he sustained. His addiction happened quickly, and he dealt with this for nearly 20 years until his death in 1955.Another jazz musician, Billie Holiday, has a story of addiction very similar to Charlie Parkers. After the death of her mother in 1945, she began drinking heavily which then escalated to drug use to ease her grief. She used heroin frequently for more than 10 years and it was most likely responsible for her death in 1959. Holiday was arrested numerous times for heroin possession and at one time was sentenced to 8 months in prison because of this. At one point she was admitted to the hospital for heart and liver problems and while there, she was arrested again for possession of heroin. While she was in the hospital receiving treatment for her failing kidney, she passed away due to a result of drug and alcohol abuse. Also, Miles Davis was introduced to heroin by a member of his band. In 1950, at the end of the tour they were on, they decided to stop off and get some drugs from someone they knew. This resulted in being followed by the police and being busted. This event caused a great deal of negative publicity, including the Down Beat magazine doing an article on how drugs are ruining the jazz music scene. In this article, it talked about the drug bust which included Miles Davis. This article being published caused him to be locked out of many clubs. In 1951, when he was acquitted of the charges, he continued to have problems with some clubs allowing him to perform. Davis eventually returned home to his father and was able to get off heroin. He was clean for a little bit, until he decided to go to Detroit. He knew that if he went there, it was a possibility he would relapse, but he knew it wouldn’t be as bad as if he had gone to New York City. He believed the drugs weren’t as pure, so it wouldn’t be as bad. Once in Detroit, he relapsed but only for a short period of time. Through hard work and consistency, Davis was eventually able to beat his drug addiction entirely.  Drugs effect everyone differently and while some people who have a drug addiction can work through the withdrawal issues and become clean and stay clean, others are not able to beat the addiction. Between Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, Davis is the only musician that was able to beat the addiction and stay clean. If you had to compare the character Sonny in “Sonny’s Blues” to any of the above artists, he was more like Davis. In the story while in jail, Sonny writes a letter to his brother and mentions his addiction. Sonny tells him “Sometime I think I’m going to flip and never get outside and sometime I think I’ll come straight back. I tell you one thing, though, I’d rather blow my brains out than go through this again.” (51) Drug addiction is a vicious monster and Sonny is telling his brother he would rather die than to have to face being in prison and getting himself off drugs again.  Many musicians believed the drugs helped release their creative side, enhanced the natural high of performing and helped them cope with the stress of a disapproving society. Many of the musicians throughout the jazz era of 1940s – 1960s spent majority of their lives in nightclubs where drug use was a common occurrence. On top of having to deal with the pressures of “fitting in,” they also had to contend with racism. The musicians had their own entrance they had to enter through in the clubs and were not allowed to mingle with the patrons, with most them being white. A psychologist, Charles Winick, wrote in the 1960s, “The substances they imbibed may have been instrumental in liberating these artists mentally from preoccupation with their life circumstances and subsequently, may have provided the opportunity for these artists to tap into their utmost level of creativity.” There have not been any tests that prove drug use and creativity are linked together but it’s been proved that even though the creativity came out, it’s obvious the drug abuse did more harm than good. The drugs lead to trouble with the law, poor health and premature death for majority of these musicians.  It is hard to understand why people become addicted to drugs. People mistakenly view drug abuse and addiction as a social problem and believe the people who have fallen to this disease are weak. A person who has never used drugs or been involved with someone who has had a drug addiction believes a person should be able to just change their actions and stop taking drugs. Unfortunately, drug addiction is a disease that impacts the brain and because of that, simply stopping is not a matter of willpower. The effects of drug addiction are felt by the addict both physically and psychologically. It also effects those around the person, including family members, friends or any one close to the person. Many people start using drugs to cope with stress or pain. This becomes an addiction when anytime the user encounters stress or pain, they feel the need to use the drug. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says: Drugs contain chemicals that tap into the brains communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive and process information… The result is a brain awash in dopamine, a neurotransmitter present in brain regions that control movement, emotion, motivation and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this reward system, which normally responds to natural behaviors linked to survival (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc.) produces euphoric effects in response to psychoactive drugs.After the body gets hooked on the drug, one of the psychological effects of drug addiction is craving the drug. This is where the person is obsessed with obtaining and using the drug regardless of any consequences. They believe they cannot function or handle life without this. Musicians may feel they may not be able to play their music at their best without this drug.  They believe it fuels their creativity which in turn allows them to make great music. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny tells his brother “It makes you feel – in control. Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling.” (195) Sonny is trying to explain how when you grow up in an environment where he has no control over anything, it is a pretty debilitating feeling. But by making the decision to do drugs, he gains a false and temporary sense that he’s controlling his own destiny.When a person has a drug addiction, they have a disease that has the ability to affect and hurt the entire family. Everyone in the addict’s immediate family is affected in one way or another. Addiction impacts a family’s finances, physical health as well as psychological wellbeing. It can also cause tension, miscommunication, and more frequent arguments within a household which in turn creates an unhealthy environment for everyone involved. The addict can be very unpredictable which can cause anxiety, emotional pain, stress, and a loss of trust because that person cannot be counted on to follow through with what they say. Frequently, the people who are addicted don’t even realize or believe they are causing these problems within their families. And unfortunately, they don’t view themselves as sick or suffering from a problem, so they don’t reach out for help. When the person finally realizes they may have a problem, they believe the solution is to escape and run away from their addiction. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny tells his brother “I couldn’t tell you when Mama died – but the reason I wanted to leave Harlem so bad was to get away from drugs. And then, when I ran away, that’s what I was running from – really.” (218) At this point, Sonny is telling his brother he was willing to leave his family behind to run away from his addiction. But it also shows how misguided he was, or rather all drug addicts, to think he could just run away from the drugs. Because in the end, he ends up back at the very place he was trying so hard to escape. This is a common occurrence that happens often with drug addicts. Instead of realizing they need to ask for help, they run from their problems, causing even more stress and suffering for the families involved. It’s been estimated, 23 percent of people who use heroin will become dependent on the substance. The brain has receptors that are a perfect match with this drug, so when the abuser takes a hit, the effects are felt in the brain within minutes. Once a person has become dependent on a drug and they decide to come clean the toxins start to leave the body and that is when the withdrawal symptoms will start. The severity of the withdrawal will depend on a few different factors including the length of time the drug has been used, the type of drug used, how the drug was put into the body, as well as family history and medical and mental health factors. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with heroin, withdrawal begins within 12 hours of the first dose and peaks within 24-48 hours. With treatment, it is possible to overcome a heroin addiction and a person can live a satisfying life without it. When a person decides to overcome their addiction and work towards being clean, there is a recovery process that requires one step at a time. The first step is the detox process which is where the toxins from the drug start to leave the body, and as a result, withdrawal symptoms occur. When a person is detoxing from heroin, it can take anywhere from 72 hours to 7-10 days for the withdrawal symptoms to subside. The symptoms of withdrawal are not lethal; however, they can be very unpleasant and because of this it can trigger a relapse. Some of the symptoms a person may go through while going through a detox include, anxiety, bone and muscle pain, chills, disturbed sleep, fever, nausea, sweating, and the list goes on. These are some of the symptoms Sonny refers to in “Sonny’s Blues” when he mentions he’d rather blow his brains out than go through that again. While it is possible to detox at home, or in Sonny’s case, in jail, it is not advised. It is recommended the person with the addiction go through some sort of treatment program. When a person attempts to detox on their own, the success rate to staying clean in the long run is greatly decreased.Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. It is important to get professional help because during the early stages of recovery is when the risk of relapsing is the highest. Temptation can be everywhere when people are living at home attempting to become clean on their own, but a lot of that temptation disappears when the person is in a treatment program. While undergoing a professional treatment program, it can be tailored to fit each patient as needed. They will take into consideration their drug use patterns and any cooccurring medical, mental and social problems to ensure the person leads a life to stay clean. Private therapy sessions are good for the person with an addiction to attend but it is also recommended they attend group sessions.  Belonging to these groups tap into a need that may have been missing throughout their addiction, which is the need to belong. The people who are heroin addicts have become accustomed to hiding their feelings and avoid discussing their behaviors. While in these group therapy sessions, they are encouraged to share and connect with others who are going through the same problems and addictions as them. Another program that is offered to help with heroin addiction is exercise. In an article in the International Journal on Drug Policy, researchers found that people with heroin addiction histories find exercise enjoyable.In conclusion, in “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny is very similar to every other person that has become victim of the terrible disease known as drug addiction. He is powerless to his addiction unless he seeks professional help. Sonny can attempt to stay clean but there is the reality that drugs will always carry a heavy weight over him. He came to rely on the heroin to allow him to be able to deal with life but his dependency on this also enslaves him. Sonny explains to the narrator, “I thought I’d die if I couldn’t get away from it and yet, all the same, I knew that everything I was doing was just locking me in with it.” (135) This statement shows his hopelessness and powerlessness of being able to break away from this addiction. In the end of the story, Sonny finds hope and motivation through his music which has allowed him to have an optimistic outlook on his future and staying clean. He is able to replace his heroin use with his music, which provides a better way for him to express himself while remaining sober.

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