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Throughout James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”,
darkness is used as a symbol to represent both the dangers and hardships faced
by the African American community. 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). As his students begin to age, they will
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 also
implies that many of 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).

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). 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.

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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.

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