Figurative Language in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

James Baldwin uses rich similes and metaphors throughout Sonny’s Blues, often to enhance the image of an event or character or to create a distinct mood and atmosphere. At the beginning of the story, the main character meets with a drug user after finding out that his brother, Sonny, has been caught for heroin use. Baldwin compares the man to a part dog, part cunning child (Baldwin 93). Further, into their meeting, the main character uses a metaphor of ice in his guts as an expression of constant dread (Baldwin 94). On page 95, the scene where the two characters part, has the main character thinking that he will start crying like a child.

Once the main character is able to meet Sonny, he compares his brother to an animal that needs to be coaxed into the light (Baldwin 96). Sonny’s character is often depicted as much more mellow and withdrawn than his brother. The difference is then discussed again when the main character refers to their seven-year age difference as a chasm and wonders whether it can operate as a bridge instead (Baldwin 96). When traveling back to their home, the streets are personified with the word ‘killing’ (Baldwin 97). To enhance the imagery, Baldwin makes the housing projects dangerous by describing them as ‘rocks in the middle of a boiling sea’ (Baldwin 97). The same connotations are given to a familiar avenue that is ‘ filled with the hidden menace which is its very breath of life (Baldwin 97). On page 98, the scene ends with the phrase, ‘the night is creeping up outside’, a personification.

The following paragraphs give the reader very distinguishable and dark visuals. Such as the scene where the mother retells the story of the main character’s uncle’s death. After being hit by a car, the man was ‘nothing but blood and pulp’ (Baldwin 100). On page 107, as the main character watches a religious group sing on his street, he observes another woman whose black eyes glitter like coal, and her hair is a cuckoo’s nest.

On pages 111 and 112 respectively, the music enters and the horn insists sweet and high. Apprehension begins to beat the air (Baldwin 112). The world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger (Baldwin 113). The personifications and simile change the mood in a very fine way. The majority of the text and the figures of speech set up a tense and miserable atmosphere. However, a new hope emerges in the life of the main character.

Work Cited

Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues. Partisan Review, 1957.

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PapersGeeks. 2022. "Figurative Language in “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin." June 30, 2022.


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