Family vs. Family
Between the two short stories, “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin and “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, they reveal similarities and differences. Both stories are similar in the importance of family ties and the way they view family, but differ in sibling relations. In “Sonny’s Blues”, the siblings want to recreate their brotherly bond again, but in “Everyday Use” there is no sign of healing the hole between Dee, Maggie, and Mama.
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First, we will look at the importance of family ties between both stories. In “Everyday Use” the characters have strong connections with family ties and their heritage. Not ‘Dee,’Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo! ” (280). Dee changing her name to Wangero tells the reader that Dee believes by changing her name to a more “African” name is confirming her African heritage. Having this new name, Wangero “kills” Dee, so theoretically by changing her name she is killing off her own family heritage. Similarly, in “Sonny’s Blues” the two brothers have importance in family ties too. When the narrator’s mother says, “You got to hold on to your brother,” she said, “and don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him.
You going to be evil with him many a time. But don’t you forget what I told you, you hear? ” (264-265). The mother makes the narrator (brother) promise her to take care of Sonny no matter what. This shows us the unconditional love of the family, or family in general. All the mother wants is for Sonny to be taken care of and looked after when she can no longer look after him anymore. Also, from the article To the Deep Water James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” by McParland, Robert P. , he says “Sonny has reached a point of breakthrough and he is giving his life back in music.
Here Baldwin provides a beautifully lyrical passage suggesting generation and memory, as Sonny plays. Sonny’s music restores to the narrator memory, community, and family. ” This here is another reference towards family and family ties. Except this time it is through Sonny’s new found talent, music. His music was so powerful, he abstractly injects his own family memories into the music and makes the narrator (brother) remember his mother’s face and his father. From another article called, In Spite of It All: Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘Everyday Use. By Whitsitt, Sam, he states, “When the flashy Dee finally does return, greeting her mother in Arabic and declaring that she no longer bears the name “Dee,” but the African name “Wangero,” and that “Dee,” ” ‘She’s dead’ ” (29)–it’s as if there is not even a tombstone to mark the presence of her absence. Her return seems less a return than a passing by; she appears a curious visitor who has momentarily stopped off a road which began and ends elsewhere. ” I agree with what Whitsitt says about Dee. He says that because of her changing her name to “Wangero”, her return back home to visit should not be called a return, but merely a passing by.
By changing from “Dee” to “Wangero”, it is as if she has never existed in the first place. Another similarity I found is a bit complex, but also relates to a sense of family. It occurs when Dee says, “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me. ” (280). This means that Dee feels she is being held back from her culture not being named something more close to what her background is and that she is basically being suppressed by the white man for having a name like Dee.
Similarly, in “Sonny’s Blues” the notion of being suppressed black males is also given to Sonny and his brother. It is depicted by the description of the father’s brother’s death. “This car was full of white men. They was all drunk, and when they seen your father’s brother they let out a great whoop and holler and they aimed the car straight at him. They was having fun, they just wanted to scare him, the way they do sometimes, you know. But they was drunk. And I guess the boy, being drunk, too, and scared, kind of lost his head.
By the time he jumped it was too late. ” (264). The mother interprets the position and situation of a black male when she tells us what the fathers attitude is after the death of the his brother, “Till the day he died he weren’t sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother. ” (264). This exposes to us the suppressed fear and hatred that was hidden inside of the father towards the whites. In the article James Baldwin’s ‘Sonny’s Blues’: Complicated and Simple by Murray, Donald C. he says “His brother responds deeply to Sonny’s music because he knows that he is with his black brothers and is watching his own brother, grinning and “soaking wet. ” This further proves that the aspect of family can be seen differently. By looking at it as heritage, the author explains that the narrator of “Sonny’s Blues” is greatly affected by the music Sonny plays because he feels at home now, or “with his black brothers” as he denotes it. One difference between the stories is that in Walker’s “Everyday Use”, the relationship among siblings nearly dominates the story because it is shown is several places.
For example, “How long ago was it that the other house burned? Ten, twelve years? Sometimes I can still hear the flames and feel Maggie’s arms sticking to me, her hair smoking and her dress falling off her in little black papery flakes. Her eyes seemed stretched open, blazed open by the flames reflected in them. And Dee. I see her standing off under the sweet gum tree she used to dig gum out of; a look of concentration on her face as she watched the last dingy gray board of the house fall in toward the red-hot brick chimney. Why don’t you do a dance around the ashes?
I’d wanted to ask her. She had hated the house that much. ” (279). We can deduce from this that there was some tension going on between the Dee, Maggie, and the mother. The fact that Dee was standing alone to the side, it tells us that there was some tension or hatred going on between Dee, Maggie, and mother. In addition, it is also important to note the fact that Dee being well educated contributes to her thinking she is better than Maggie or mother. Now, compared to “Sonny’s Blues”, Sonny and the narrator are extremely different.
We do not feel any tension or hate happening, but a sense of recovery. For example, when the narrator says, “The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm: I wondered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge. I was remembering, and it made it hard to catch my breath, that I had been there when he was born; and I had heard the first words he had ever spoken. When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him just before he fell when he took the first steps he ever took in this world. (259). This insinuates that Sonny’s brother wants to mend the opening that has developed in their relationship with one another and attempt to get closer to Sonny. In the article Alice Walker’s Everyday Use by Nancy Tuten, she states “It is not surprising, then, that Mama, mistrustful of language expresses herself in the climactic scene of the story not through words but through deeds: she HUGS Maggie to her, DRAGS her in the room where Dee sits holding the quilts, SNATCHES the quilts from Dee, and DUMPS them into Maggie’s lap.
Only as an afterthought does she speak at all, telling Dee to “take one or two of the others. ” Mama’s actions, not her words, silence the daughter who has, up to this point, used language to control others and separate herself from the community: Mama tells us that Dee turns and leaves the room “without a word”. This quote depicts an image of tension and anger because Mama is not using her words to express her anger, but instead through actions. We can clearly see now that there is indeed a rift between Dee and the rest of her family, but Dee is not willing to mend the wounds in their relationship.
Despite the differences in sibling/family relations brought up in James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, they have the same view on family ties and the way they view family. Every family is different regardless of race, ethnicity, or what have you. Every individual is different and the same in their own ways. That is why the contrast between two loving brothers and two conflicting sisters and mother will all have their differences and similarities. Some characteristics will just be more dominant, but you both will share the good times and hard times.