49 pages 1 hour read

James Baldwin

Sonny's Blues

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1957

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Reading Context

Use these questions or activities to help gauge students’ familiarity with and spark their interest in the context of the work, giving them an entry point into the text itself.

Short Answer

1. What different emotional impacts can music have on listeners? How are mood and the genre of music related?

Teaching Suggestion: It might be helpful to have some music playing as your students come into class—jazz or blues, to set the scene.

  • Charlie Parker, The Essential - This YouTube video features a release from jazz legend Charlie Parker, Sonny’s musical idol. Students can listen for the piano and discuss its role in the music—when it “comps,” or accompanies the lead, and when it takes the solo.

2. In media res is a Latin term used to describe a story that begins in the middle of the plot’s narrative chronology. The phrase literally translates to “in the middle of things.” “Sonny’s Blues” begins this way. Why might an author choose this narrative technique? What effect does it have on the reader?

Teaching Suggestion: It might be helpful to divide students up into small groups and assign each group a fairy tale to plot on a plot diagram. Then, have them identify moments in the story that would be effective ways to start the story in media res.

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