?Barn Burning? And ?Sonny?S Blues? Essay, Research Paper
Growth through Pain
The word family evokes an image of trust and a bond of loyalty. In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”, the main characters in both these stories demonstrate the idea of family loyalty in several ways. While they continue to express the values of family loyalty, the main characters have to overcome several obstacles. Searching for ways to communicate effectively with their families and maintaining their changing identities trap the characters. In “Barn Burning”, Sarty is conflicted with being loyal to his family and being loyal to himself and in “Sonny’s Blues”, the brother has to deal with being loyal to Sonny’s values. During this process, it changes their character and forces them to change and learn about themselves.
In “Barn Burning”, Sarty is emotionally torn by two personalities, one being loyal to his Father, and the other is being loyal to society because in his mind, he knows he’s doing the right thing. But in the beginning of the story, Sarty’s personality starts to pull when the Justice of the Peace is questioning him. Sarty has the need to tell the truth yet with his Father’s dominating presence there, he cannot do it. “He aims for me to lie, he thought again with that frantic grief and despair,” (p.398). In one sentence, there is an instant clear meaning that Sarty is distraught in making decisions having to involve his Father. In this moment though, he also feels his Father’s emotions penetrating right into his body through his Father, “did not even look at him” (p.398). Sarty’s sense of loyalty sides strongly with family due to the fact of how he was raised. The time period in which the story takes place is a time when traditional family values were of high importance. The men, such as the Father, Abner, plays a leading role in Sarty’s life because he expects a lot out of him. Sarty was taught to always stick to his own kind, his family, otherwise he would have none. “You got to stick to your own blood” (p.400).
In comparison to Sarty’s character, the brother from “Sonny’s Blues” also deals with loyalty, but of a different type. The brother is caught up in wanting the world to serve him in order to live a successful life therefore fantasizing about the “American Dream”. He is so fixated on this “American Dream” that he overlooks what Sonny wants to do with his life and instead pulls him further into his own goals. What the brother is doing is taking care of Sonny, he is fulfilling his promise to his Mother. His Mother wanted him to take care of Sonny because she knows how tough it was when his Father lost his brother. As a result, her words of wisdom haunt him and remains in his memory forever. The brother can already relate to this for the reason that he just recently lost his own two-year old daughter who suffered from polio. “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there,” (p.204). The brother’s real loyalty stands within his Mother in keeping his promise to her to take care of Sonny no matter what happens.
In both stories, Sarty and the brother are both dynamic characters. The loyalty comparisons play a big role in changing their character and identity. Thought the characters know that something is happening with their identities, the realization happen as the events happen. In “Barn Burning”, Sarty’s young and na?ve personality grows older and knowledgeable as the story progresses. He’s used to being an obedient son, but there are points in the story where the words he uses to describe his Father grow stronger and colder. First, his Father is “stiff in his black Sunday coat,” (p.398) and then his Father’s “iron-gray brows” (p.402) are portrayed. The words stiff and iron suggest a level of growth for Sarty as he describes his Father. In addition to his obedience, Sarty also has to deal with the physical and emotional abuse from his Father. For example, the night before his family moves into another new place, his Father struck him for wanting to help other people, strangers, instead of his own family. Sarty’s Father striking resembles that of a fire striking him. It is symbolic that his Father goes around burning people’s barns because he is also burning Sarty’s mind. The house that they go and stay at is so huge that he thinks to himself, “They are safe from him. People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are beyond his touch…” (p.410). At this point, Sarty expands in growing older because he does not want other people, society, to get hurt as a result of his Father’s actions.
In “Sonny’s Blues”, the brother makes connections with his identity therefore changing his own character and matures in the process with the events that happen in the story. In the beginning of the story, he ignores what Sonny wants; never really recognizing Sonny’s passion is music, blues music. Sonny made it clear to his brother that he was the one making decisions about his future. “You decided it” (p.206), Sonny pointed this out with the brother ignoring his ideas. The brother has a problem with Sonny because Sonny does not want to do regular things. Ever since he grew up as a teenager, he never went to school but spent all his time playing piano and going to Greenwich Village, a place where music is lively. The brother actually went to see Sonny play one night, and that night made him grow wise and appreciate the life Sonny wants to have. It all made sense, the brother losing his daughter and accepting the loss pushed him to realize he cannot lost Sonny just because he doesn’t approve of how he’s made music his life. The brother felt that the music “was very beautiful because it wasn’t hurried and no longer a lament” (p.206). This is their connection, the brother realizes they both share different ideas but both of them chase after the same dream, of wanting to live life to the absolute fullest.
The literal meaning of loyal is the act of remaining faithful to a country, person, ruler, and government or ideal. Therefore the understandings of loyalty in both stories are similar but the motivations contrast in that different events and emotions are displayed. In “Barn Burning”, the Father decides to burn the barn and while he is doing this, Sarty reaches full awareness of the situation and under the hold of his mother; he struggles to get away and manages to jerk free. “then he was free” (P.407), Sarty is free to let go of his loyalty towards his Father and hurried to inform the barn’s owner, Major De Spain that his barn was in fire. In doing so, the Major quickly left the house with his shotgun, and in the distance, Sarty heard two shots. Then he finally knew that his Father and brother were dead. The death of his Father and brother let him go, it let his freedom loose, he was able to let go of the problem that would be imprinted in him memory forever. In this experience, he runs away to be by himself, consequently losing his whole family because when he left his Father, he also left his Mother. This event motivates him even more to run away because he has to be loyal to himself and do what he thinks is the right thing to do at the time. Sarty controls himself enough to think clearly that what his Father is doing is wrong and at all means, he is going to do whatever is necessary including withdrawing his loyalty to his Father.
“Sonny’s Blues” in contrast create another picture of loyalty that actually also relates more to Sonny than his brother. Sonny is quite like Sarty in having to run away from a problem but they both share the same characteristic in whether or not to listen to their family member. In Sonny’s case, it is his brother. His brother wants him to give up what he wants to do and follow in his footsteps, like that of the “American Dream”. Sonny made it clear to his brother that he was making all the decisions about his future, “You decided it,” (P.206). Sonny pointed this out with his brother ignoring his ideas.
Sonny is trying really hard to be loyal in his decision to make his brother happy but he cannot because his brother doesn’t try to listen. So he is also torn apart because he loves music and he loves his brother so he has to choose between which one will motivate him more. In the end, he chooses music because it is something that he can always turn to when something bad happens.
The unifying theme that runs through “Sonny’s Blues” and “Barn Burning” is “growth through pain”. The events that happen in both stories are different but the fact that both characters grow simultaneously in their minds create a strong bond. Though they do not experience the same things, it matures from a young state of mind to a newer, older identity that takes place. Sarty, as a young boy is forced to grow up at a faster pace than most young boys because he is coerced into making a tough decision to abandon his Father, which is also abandoning his whole family. The brother in “Sonny’s Blues” is already at a reasonable adult age but grows wise because he accepts his brother’s decision to let him live his own life. Both characters go through a great amount of pain in order to reach this understanding of loyalty. Sarty had to let go of his Father and this resulted in the loss of his whole family but that was his decision and he “did not look back” (p.409). With the brother, he finally figured out what Sonny’s dream was when he saw him play his music and the joy that Sonny felt, he felt it too and understood music is Sonny’s way of living, his life unleashed through music. Even though both stories tell a different tale, this quote applies to the brother and Sarty because they both had to rely on their self-intuition to help them understand the ordeals they went through to reach a final decision. “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen…” (P.216)