Posted: March 9th, 2022
¶ … Sonny’s Blues,”
“the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and Maggie, a Girl of the Streets,
Violence is a theme in each of the stories. In “Sonny’s Blues,” violence materializes in the streets in which Sonny and his brother lived. We are told about the “stony, lifeless elegance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets” (Baldwin 29) that are present in the boys’ lives on a daily basis. Sonny’s brother recollects later in his life that the streets “hadn’t changed, though the housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of the boiling sea” (Baldwin 29). The violence is something that needs to be escaped and while the narrator does escape it, Sonny seems to struggle with it his entire life. Sonny feels no escape and tells his brother that music helps him forget everything bad about his life. He tells him, “It’s terrible sometimes . . . You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s really not a living ass to talk to . . . Sometimes you’ll do anything to play, even cut your mother’s throat” (Baldwin 43). The music is a solace beyond what words can describe. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Huck suffers violence at the hand of his abusive father. In addition, later in the story, when he encounters the robbers and their threats to murder another man, he faces another level of violence. In Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, Maggie is practically surrounded by violence everyday. Early in the story, we know that men fighting in the streets are a regular occurrence. We read that their faces look like those of “true assassins,” Crane tells us (Crane 3). Maggie also experiences violence at home with Jimmie and her father. Violence is something that some of these characters cannot escape, despite their plans.
Class is also a theme that each of these stories touches upon. In “Sonny’s Blues,” class emerges in an interesting way because it is best illustrated by the two brothers. Sonny has remained in the lower class, still fighting to find his way and gain a stable footing in life while his brother has made a stable life for himself and is accepted as middle class. The conflict of class arises as Sonny does not necessarily want to be a part of the middle class because it seems to represent living like white people and giving up his passion — something which his brother does not have and cannot understand. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the issue of class becomes most evident through Huck’s relationship with Jim. Huck has been raised to treat African-Americans one way but his instinct tells him something different. He does not quite understand the idea of slavery because he is young and he can still see the cruelty behind it. He does not see class as the adults around him do. When he struggles with turning in Jim, he finally decides he cannot do it. He states, “People would call me a low down abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum — but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell” (Twain 269). Here we see that he knows the language and knows what others have told him to do based on Jim’s class but he decides that he knows better than the grown-ups around him. In Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, class becomes an important issue for Crane in that it becomes what separates Maggie from the rest of the world. She is never able to escape her lower-class status and when she loses the love of her life, she sees no further hope for her life. These stories illustrate how class often divides people.
Racism is also evident in these stories. In “Sonny’s Blues,” one of the most racist acts is the killing of Sonny’s uncle by a group of drunken white men. Sonny’s mother’s describes the incident in such a way that we can see the awful behavior that racism incurs. While the white men driving the car were drunk, it is by no means an excuse for driving over his uncle. They did not slow down but instead “let out a great whoop and holler and they aimed the car straight at him’ (Baldwin 32). Here we see that a life is treated as something practically worthless. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” racism emerges with the treatment of African-Americans. Twain emphasizes racism through the character of Jim, who desperately wants to be free. In Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, racism can be seen in Pete and Maggie’s relationship. Pete eventually breaks things off with Maggie, leaving her feeling more alone and desperate than ever. Racism is a topic that lurks in the background of each of these stories, illuminating the notion that even when race should not matter, it does and if others allow a person’s race define who they are in our eyes, we risk much.
Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction R.V. Cassill, ed. W.
W. Norton and Company. New York: 1981.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. New York: Random House. 2001.
Twain, Mark. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Heath Anthology of American
Literature. Lauter, Paul, ed. Massachusetts D.C. Heath and Company. 1990.
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