Topic: Literary analysis of “Sonny’s Blues”
Length: 750-1000 words (not including the works cited page)
Format: MLA paper format and an MLA Works Cited page for the story used. Please do not guess with the format, your in-text citations, or the works cited page.
Step 1: Re-Read “Sonny’s Blues”
For this essay, you will have one primary source: “Sonny’s Blues.” You may also use one or two critical sources provided for you in the Literature Selection II: Modern Fiction page or via The Valencia Reader
Step 2: Choose a Topic
You have several options you can take in developing this essay. Choose one method/organizational structure and follow it. In addition to including properly cited quotes from the story, you may also include properly cited information from no more than two secondary sources (criticism on the story) from the library or credible websites (.edu, articles, or books found through Google Scholar).
Topic 1: Discuss oppression, race, and poverty in “Sonny’s Blues.” Alternately, you can discuss drug addiction, music, or family relationships in this story.
Topic 2: Analyze the story as an African American short story.
Topic 3: Choose three elements (character, conflict, setting, imagery, point of view, or symbols, dialogue, tone, irony) in the story and explain how those elements help communicate a specific idea about life (theme).
Topic 4: Discuss how the narrator’s perception of his world affects their interactions with others.
Topic 5: Choose one element in the story (setting, imagery, point of view, or symbols, dialogue, tone, irony) and explain why that element is important to understanding the characters, the themes, and the conflict of the story.
Step 3: Plan Your Essay, Identify Themes, and Write a Thesis
In week 3, you will plan your essay. You will create a thesis that identifies themes and that is supported by the use of evidence from the story (specifically evidence that comes from the study of the elements of fiction in a story). You can assume that your audience has read the story you are analyzing, so you should not simply write a plot summary of it.
Theme, Thesis, and the Literary Elements
The theme of a literary work is its underlying central idea or the idea it communicates about life. The theme is not a topic. The topic might be love, but the theme is some specific comment about love (love is blind, love is fleeting). Your thesis should identify themes and elements. In its simplest terms, a thesis might follow this template (these are ideas; please write your own thesis):
In (Title of Story), (statement of the theme) is illustrated through (element 1), (element 2), and (element 3).
In “Sonny’s Blues,” music as a spiritual experience is illustrated through Baldwin’s use of musical and religious diction, Sonny’s performance, and the narrator’s reaction to that performance.
Although the narrator in “Sonny’s Blues,” struggles to understand the nature of Sonny’s suffering, the suffering of the world, and his own suffering, by experiencing Sonny’s musical performance, he gains empathy for his brother and an understanding that while suffering is inevitable, a person can find a way to transcend it.
“Sonny’s Blues” represents the racial oppression experienced by African Americans in the 1950s and how some sought to escape, change, or transcend it.
Step 4: Organize and Develop your Essay
You should give your audience an interpretation of the work, an insightful explanation that will help your audience understand the work’s elements, meaning, and themes.
Use evidence from the text to support your analysis. You should draw from specific literary elements: character, setting, dialogue, point of view, symbols, figurative language, conflict, imagery.
Back up generalizations by specific references to the literary texts you are discussing. Rather than trying to cover everything (doing so will inevitably lead to superficial and overly general treatment), you will be better off focusing your analysis around a specific theme and a few elements that emerge in the text. Do not focus your attention solely on the plot.
Use direct quotes in your essay. Your quotes should be smoothly integrated and given appropriate context with signal phrases (Links to an external site.). They should be followed by an analysis of the language and the element or idea the quote is an example of. Finally, they should be cited properly in MLA format.
Write your work in 3rd person; this means you don’t use 1st person (I, me) or 2nd person (you).
Checklist for Key Requirements
An original title
A precise and debatable thesis. A thesis answers the “So what” can I tell my readers that they don’t already know from reading the work of literature?
Not a plot summary
Do not write a biography of the author
Organized in essay form
Claims backed by evidence that is then analyzed
Properly integrated and cited quotes from the primary source
No grammatical errors
Use of the third person; avoid first and second person
Literary analysis of Sonnys Blues
Topic: Literary analysis of “Sonny’s Blues”