Unanswered [17] | Urgent [0]
  

Home / Undergraduate   % width Posts: 6

"Sonny's Blues" essay (the present and past tense problems)


Rosterloh 1 / 1  
Dec 10, 2009   #1
I'm having trouble recognizing when to use the present tense, and when it is ok to use past tense. I also am having trouble with grammar. One more thing i'm not sure about is if i should be using block quotes on any of my long quotes. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated! (tear the essay apart if you want, my feelings can take the beating :D).

Thanks in advance,
Ryan


"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin



From the very start of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin there is an apparent theme of darkness that makes itself ever more evident throughout the story. Baldwin uses this theme of darkness as a metaphor for Sonny's suffering and addiction to heroin. The author uses this metaphor to give possible explanations to his audience as to what may have lead to Sonny's addiction and how it ultimately turns into light through means of music as an alternative escape from his troubles.

The author is never explicitly clear as to what specifically leads to Sonny's addiction to heroin and overall darkness in his life. However there are a couple events in the story which point towards possible explanations for Sonny's suffering. First of which being his father's prejudice toward white people. In the story Sonny's brother has a critical conversation with his mother. She tells the extensive story of how their father's brother died and how those events subsequently lead to their fathers prejudice towards white people. "His brother got killed, she said, when he was just a little younger than you are now...He used to have a job in the mill, she said, and, like all young folks, he just liked to perform on Saturday nights... Well, this particular Saturday night, him and your father was coming home from some place, and they were both a little drunk and there was a moon that night, it was bright like day... And your father started to run down the hill, he says he don't know why. This car was full of white men. They was all drunk, and when they seen your father's brother they let out a great whoop and holler and they aimed the car straight at him... By the time he jumped it was too late. Your father says he heard his brother scream when the car rolled over him, and he heard the wood of that guitar when it give, and he heard them strings go flying, and he heard them white men shouting... Till the day he died he weren't sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother." (612-613). While Sonny's mother made sure that their father never speaks of those events to their children it shows the audience a couple things. It primarily displays that even though their father never said anything to Sonny and his brother, his anger towards whites couldn't be completely hidden. It is very likely that his prejudice subliminally rubbed off on his sons, especially since actions are much more potent than words. Secondly this shows that at the time the story was written there was a lot of racism towards blacks which was most likely a huge factor that lead to Sonny's bout of darkness.

While there are a multitude of factors may have led to Sonny's heroin addiction, Baldwin doesn't specifically call out a specific event as being the deciding factor leading to Sonny's heroin addiction. Baldwin leaves it up to the audience to speculate as to what may have been the cause. However one thing is evident, Sonny needs to get out of that darkness, but he can't do it alone. Where every cloud has a silver lining, Sonny has his brother and music to pull him out of his darkness. Sonny had been using heroin a means of escape from his suffering. While it might have done a good job at temporarily relieving Sonny's pain, it eventually led to more pain and suffering. He needed to find a new way to escape. His brother was the one who help him do that by keeping a promise to his mother "I want to talk to you about your brother, she said, suddenly. If anything happens to me he ain't going to have nobody to look out for him." (612). The narrator made a promise to his mother that he would watch over his brother, he kept true to his promise and in doing so the he was able to help his brother out of this rabbit hole of drugs that he had been falling down for so long.

Sonny always wanted to be a musician, more specifically he wanted to play Jazz "I mean, I'll have a lot of studying to do, and I'll have to study everything, but, I mean, I want to play with-jazz musicians. He stopped. I want to play jazz, he said." (614). After Sonny got out of rehab he started going back to school but eventually became disheartened about school, and needed something to cheer him up and pull him through. That something was Isabel's piano. However Sonny's brother was not always fond of Sonny's love of music; many of the musicians he knew had also addicted to drugs, and therefore Sonny's brother was concerned that music would only hinder Sonny's road to recovery. Sonny's brother eventually realized that music was the only thing that was going to pull Sonny out of negative attitude towards school. With that in mind Sonny's tried to cheer him up by telling Sonny that he could play on Isabel's piano "Then I said, trying to cheer him up a little, They got a piano at Isabel's. You can practice on it. And as a matter of fact, it did cheer him up for a minute. That's right, he said to himself. I forgot that. His face relaxed a little. But the worry, the thoughtfulness, played on it still, the way shadows play on a face which is staring into the fire." (617). That little bit of light pulled him through his darkness and allowed him to practice his passion in jazz. Sonny was now dedicated to becoming great at jazz which later became Sonny's best outlet for escaping his sorrows.

Throughout Sonny's blues the theme of darkness replays over and over, the theme is even displayed in the first paragraph of the story as Sonny's brother is on the subway "I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside." (604). This morose theme casts a huge shadow of hopelessness over Sonny's situation. This shadow makes it clear that it will be too difficult for Sonny to face his problem head on like some people are capable of. The fact that Sonny can't face his problems head on causes him to try to escape the problems through his addiction to heroin, this gives the audience a sense that Sonny's future is grim and will probably end sadly. While the end of Sonny's Blues is no fairy tale ending, it does end on a note of hope, that hope being Sonny's new means of escape with music. Sonny's story sends the powerful and effective message to the audience that no matter how dark a situation is, there is always going to be light.
mynameisjohn 3 / 8  
Dec 11, 2009   #2
Changes are in bold.

Well to start off, you may use past or present tense (I have been taught to use present tense as opposed to past, but technically the past tense is considered the "scholarly" tense, but again it depends on what your teacher is looking for.) However, once you start writing an essay in present tense, use present tense throughout the entire essay. Likewise for past tense, if you start in the past tense use it throughout the entire essay. That being said, here are my suggestions.

From the very start of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin there is an apparent theme of darkness that makes itself ever more evident throughout the story. Baldwin uses this theme of darkness as a metaphor for Sonny's suffering and addiction to heroin. The author...

"From the very start of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin there is an apparent theme of darkness that makes itself ever more evident throughout the story. Baldwin uses this theme of darkness as a metaphor for Sonny's suffering and addiction to heroin. The author"

I wasn't going to go through the entire essay and point it out, but as this small section shows, you repeat "Baldwin" and "The author" a considerable amount of times. It is best to stay away from this habit. Ideally, you should only mention the author's name once in the entire essay, with that mention being in your introduction. Try to cut down on the number of times you use his name or say "the author" throughout the essay.

The author is never explicitly clear as to what specifically leads to Sonny's addiction to heroin and overall darkness in his life. However there are a couple events in the story which point towards possible explanations for Sonny's suffering.

"The author is never explicitly clear as to what specifically leads to Sonny's addiction to heroin and overall darkness in his life; however, there are a couple events in the story which point towards possible explanations for Sonny's suffering."

Use of a semi-colon can bring these two sentences together nicely.

First of which being his father's prejudice toward white people.

"One such explanation given is his father's prejudice toward white people."

The original sentence without alteration is a fragmented sentence. Using the statement "First of which" is referring to a subject that is not within that particular sentence, but the sentence before it.

In the story Sonny's brother has a critical conversation with his mother.

"In the story, Sonny's brother has a critical conversation with his mother. "

If you were to say this sentence out loud, you would pause (even if for a second) after saying story. Whenever the reader needs to pause briefly, a comma is necessary.

...lead to their fathers prejudice towards...

"...lead to their father's prejudice towards..."

You need an apostrophe in "father's"

For that huge quotation you have you must put it into block quotation form. Any quotation that is longer than 4 lines should be put in block form. Here is a link to give you a basic idea on how to format it, a simple Google search can give you further information.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_quotation#Quotations_within_an_extract

While Sonny's mother made sure that their father never speaks of those events to their children it shows the audience a couple things.

"While Sonny's mother made sure that their father never spoke of those events to their children it reveals several things to the audience."

Speaks must be changed to spoke because up until that point you had been writing the essay in the past tense, therefore you must change that word to the past tense as well. Regarding "it shows the audience a couple things" That line just sounds rather cheap. Better vocabulary can be used to reword that phrase, I provided only a suggestion, I encourage you to come up with a different phrase.

Secondly this shows that at the time the story was written there was a lot of racism towards blacks which was most likely a huge factor that lead to Sonny's bout of darkness.

"Secondly, this shows that at the time the story was written there was a lot of racism towards blacks which was most likely a huge factor that lead to Sonny's bout of darkness."

A comma is required after "Secondly" as you would pause after that word if reading the sentence aloud. Moving on, "Secondly" is a rather poor word choice. To sound more sophisticated, an alternate word such as "Furthermore" should be used. Again, that is a suggestion and I encourage you to use a different word of your choice to begin your sentence.

While there are a multitude of factors may have led to Sonny's heroin addiction, Baldwin doesn't specifically call out a specific event as being the deciding factor leading to Sonny's heroin addiction.

You should delete this entire sentence. You are repeating what you said in the first sentence of paragraph 2.

While it might have done a good job at temporarily relieving Sonny's pain, it eventually led to more pain and suffering.

This is a fragmented sentence. There is no subject in this sentence, but rather in the previous sentence. If you were to isolate this sentence your reader would be asking...what is "it"?

His brother was the one who help him do that by keeping a promise to his mother "I want to talk to you about your brother, she said, suddenly...

"His brother was the one who helped him do that by keeping a promiseto his mother, "I want to talk to you about your brother, she said, suddenly..."

ALWAYS put a comma after the word preceding a quotation.

he wanted to play Jazz "I mean, I'll have a lot of studying

"he wanted to play Jazz, "I mean, I'll have a lot of studying"

Once again, comma before a quotation.

After Sonny got out of rehab he started going back to school but eventually became disheartened about school, and needed something to cheer him up and pull him through. That something was Isabel's piano.

"After Sonny got out of rehab he started going back to school but eventually became disheartened about school, and needed something to cheer him up and pull him through; that something was Isabel's piano."

The sentences can be combined using a semi-colon.

However Sonny's brother was not always fond of Sonny's love of music; many of the musicians he knew had also addicted to drugs, and therefore Sonny's brother was concerned that music would only hinder Sonny's road to recovery.

"However, Sonny's brother was not always fond of Sonny's love of music, many of the musicians he knew had also addicted to drugs, and therefore Sonny's brother was concerned that music would only hinder Sonny's road to recovery."

You need a comma after "However" and the semi-colon after the word music should be a comma instead.

And there you have it. While I can't guarantee you I caught 100% of the errors, I certainly made quite a dent in them for you so you should be able to edit your essay accordingly. But after all of the criticism I do have a compliment. I particularly like your conclusion. It is very effective at summing up all of the points discussed within the essay.

Hope this helps!
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 12, 2009   #3
Wow, John, that is some thorough feedback. You are a hero.

Yes, when you write about a book or film, you often stick to the present tense:
While Sonny's mother makes sure that their father never speaks of those events to their children, it shows...

Keep your description in the present tense. I see that this is what you do for the most part.

I wonder if it is interesting to you like it is to me: Scholars who are writing about a book write about the story in the present tense. That is a nice way to write about literature.
OP Rosterloh 1 / 1  
Dec 18, 2009   #4
John you are freaking amazing! thank you sooooo much for this feedback, you saved my ass! i owe you one bro!
c042989 - / 1  
Nov 6, 2011   #5
Sonny's Blues short story research paper - where to start?

I have to do a research paper on the short story Sonny's Blues. I dont even know where to start help please.
uzumaki 1 / 2  
Nov 7, 2011   #6
is this like a review?
if it is i'd start with the plot overview then your opinion, compering it to other books by the same author and then if you'd recommend it. hope this helps - if not - sorry.


Home / Undergraduate / "Sonny's Blues" essay (the present and past tense problems)