The story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin is about two African-American brothers, the narrator (a schoolteacher) and Sonny (a jazz pianist), who struggle to understand each other. The narrator is a stable family man with a wife and two sons. He is older than Sonny and has tried, all throughout his life, to protect him. The story begins as the narrator, who has been estranged from Sonny for over a year, reads about a drug raid in which Sonny has been arrested. As guilt and sorrow wash over him, the story continues with the narrator remembering his past with Sonny and finding means that lead him back to why Sonny is the way he is.
Some of them include a flashback the narrator had about his father and the death of his uncle, a street corner revival, and an old friend of Sonny’s who tries to explain why Sonny does what he does. Towards the end of “Sonny’s Blues”, Baldwin describes the narrator spotting a glass sitting on Sonny’s piano. He says it’s shaking “like the very cup of trembling. ” This symbol represents the complicated position Sonny was in. The cup of trembling is borrowed from the Bible, where it is used to describe the suffering and fear that have troubled people.
The passage promises a relief from his hard times. So Sonny drinking from the cup of trembling is a reminder of all the suffering he has gone through (his drug addiction, arrest, etc. ) and having the chance for peace and rescue. Like the figures from the Bible, Sonny is moving toward salvation, but his fate is still questionable. At the end of the story, no one is sure whether he will continue to suffer so he can play his music or if a greater peace and redemption waits everyone. But if the reader does refer back to the biblical allusion, Sonny will have peace in his life soon enough.
Maybe even the narrator will find new hope in Sonny. He might have more trust and believe in him. Throughout the story, the reader can tell that Sonny keeps all of his problems and emotions bottled up. He never seems to bother anyone with his personal life and is very quiet for the most part. It is only when Sonny plays his music that he frees himself. Music is the only thing that keeps him from drugs and prison too. The cup of trembling that Baldwin refers to in the story might be Sonny’s music. Sonny might find peace and redemption in the music he plays.