An Analysis of Suffering in Indian Camp and Sonnys Blues

Exclusively available on PapersOwl
Updated: Aug 15, 2023
Cite this
Date added
Pages:  5
Words:  1636
Order Original Essay

How it works

In many instances, jobs of literature represent real-world situations, whether they involve physical, emotional, or mental concerns. Human beings all experience some type of enduring in their lives. Literary works make use of the motif of suffering to portray how people endure in their unique ways, and how they respond to their suffering. Authors like James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway use this motif to add realistic situations and drama to their short stories, connecting better with their readers.

In James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues,” the narrative is about a young jazz artist named Sonny, who battles with heroin addiction.

Need a custom essay on the same topic?
Give us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll deliver the highest-quality essay!
Order now

His story and pain are described from his brother’s perspective, who is the narrator. Initially, we learn that Sonny was arrested for using and selling drugs. Later, upon his release from prison, he moves in with the narrator and his family in Harlem, New York. It’s through the narrator’s viewpoint that we understand various types of suffering in this story.

Several characters in the story suffer in their unique ways. The primary issue in this piece is drug addiction, alongside other issues like pain, poverty, and life’s limited opportunities. Some characters strive to escape their suffering, while others accept their pain.

Sonny endures various hardships, though his drug addiction remains the most obvious. As per the narrator, Sonny started using heroin when he was merely in secondary school. Currently a secondary school teacher, the narrator states, “I was sure that the first time Sonny had ever used [heroin], he couldn’t have been older than these boys were now” (265). Growing up in Harlem, surrounded by poverty and abundant drugs, directly instigated Sonny’s addiction. Though Sonny attempted to escape this suffering by leaving Harlem for a music career, he never escaped the grip drugs had on him.

His inability to escape poverty during his teenage years led him to drugs – he felt in control when using them. Given his lack of control over living in a place like Harlem, he used heroin as a coping mechanism. “…what heroin feels like sometimes…warm and cool…it makes you feel–in control. Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling” (286). Sonny confides to his brother that heroin allowed him to withstand the misery of living in Harlem. He further explains how he felt like he was in control when he was high: “No, there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to stay on top of it, and to make it seem – well, like you…” (287). He perceived the suffering he faced from heroin as a choice, unlike the uncontrollable suffering he endured living in Harlem.

Sonny, too, grappled with his life in prison and the realization that he had hurt his family. When he received a letter from his brother during his incarceration, Sonny wrote back, saying, “You don’t know how much I needed to hear from you. I wanted to write to you many times, but I understood how deeply I must have hurt you and as a result, I refrained” (269). The emotional and mental distress of prison life was wearing him down, yet he refrained from reaching out to his brother due to his guilt over causing him pain with his drug addiction. The knowledge of disappointing his brother influenced his choice to endure his struggles alone, despite needing familial support when he was most vulnerable.

The narrator, besides Sonny, was also grappling with his own suffering, albeit in a different way; he was enduring grief. Upon discovering that Sonny was arrested for drug usage and distribution, the narrator was stunned. “A jagged lump of ice lodged itself in my stomach, melting slowly over the course of the day as I taught my algebra classes. It was a peculiar kind of constriction… Periodically, it solidified, seeming to expand until I felt ready to break, either by screaming or choking” (264). The narrator was secretly experiencing his grief, unable to externalize his feelings. There’s an enduring quality to his pain, as though he had expected this outcome due to his brother’s circumstances. The narrator felt anger – against Harlem for what it did to his brother, against his brother for destroying himself and against anyone who knew Sonny before he left Harlem. His path ultimately crossed with an old acquaintance of Sonny’s.

This old acquaintance happened to be a fellow addict. For a fleeting moment, the man bore a striking resemblance to Sonny in the narrator’s eyes, until he realized it was not Sonny, but the man’s condition reminded him of Sonny’s predicament. He felt a deep-seated resentment towards Sonny’s old mate owing to their similar circumstances. The narrator spoke with the man about Sonny’s situation and pondered his prospects post-prison. As the man requested for money, the narrator understood its likely use, evoking his sympathy and compassion. “Something in me gave way, threatening to overflow. I didn’t despise him any longer. It felt as if I was on the brink of shedding tears” (268). He didn’t resent the man anymore, rather he felt a profound sorrow for him and Sonny, saddened by what their lives had been reduced to. The encounter stirred memories of his brother before his departure from Harlem.

A more subtle demonstration of suffering depicted in the story was the plight of the children growing up in Harlem. Their opportunities to escape the harsh realities of their surroundings were far and few. The narrator compared their current predicament with his and Sonny’s childhood in Harlem. “These kids were living through exactly what we had endured in our time. They were growing up too fast and hit a metaphorical ceiling that hampered their potential opportunities” (265). The children were acutely aware of the slim prospects of any significant improvement to their lives, unable to overcome the obstacles barring them from success or to change their circumstances.

Enduring is expressed in different methods in this story. Some are really taking care of their type of suffering directly while others aren’t. Either way, suffering is present in all of their lives and will affect them whether they recognize it or not.

In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Indian Camp,” a young child named Nick goes to an American Indian camp on the other side of the lake with his father, a physician, and his Uncle George. His father was called to assist in the delivery of an American Indian woman’s baby, who has remained in labor for the past two days. She is in pain, and Nick watches as the situation unfolds before his eyes.

The theme of suffering is apparent in this story, and the suffering of two of the characters is caused by the unborn baby itself. There is both physical and psychological suffering, and each character manages the pain in their own way.

The Indian woman is dealing with the physical pain of enduring labor for two days. She has been screaming for days, and the doctor was unable to alleviate her screaming because he didn’t have any anesthetic. The Indian woman experiences more physical pain when the doctor began to operate on her without the proper medical supplies. The doctor proudly states how he performed the operation: “a Caesarian with a jackknife and stitching it up with nine-foot, tapered gut leaders” (481). She is unable to control her suffering, but she attempts to cope with it when Uncle George is beside her. She bit his arm when she was being restrained by him and three other Indian men while the doctor was operating on her.

The Indian woman’s husband is suffering from the mental anguish of witnessing his wife in labor. He is also dealing with embarrassment – the fact that his wife was impregnated by another man, let alone a white man. He is also suffering physical pain from when he accidentally cut his foot severely with an axe. Hearing his wife scream in pain also adds to his suffering because he cannot escape her cries, and he knows the only reason she is in this situation is due to Uncle George. He mentally suffers when Nick asks his father to make her stop screaming and the doctor replies, “her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important” (480). Immediately after this comment, the husband “rolled over against the wall” (480). He also struggles with the psychological oppression from the white men and since the doctor disregards his wife’s physical pain as unimportant. In society, men are expected to hide their weaknesses and not show that they are suffering. Thus, the husband silently endures his mental pain, ultimately driving him to commit suicide.

At the end of the story, Nick asks his father about the Indian woman’s husband. He asks, “Why did he kill himself, Father?” to which the father replied, “I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things, I guess” (481). Nick’s dad comprehends that the Indian man could not bear his mental pain any longer, so he committed suicide as a means to cope with his suffering.

Both characters manage their suffering in various ways. Gender plays a role in how both the Indian man and the Indian woman choose to handle their pain. Suffering can be linked to weakness; this is why the Indian man did not express himself at all. Instead, he remained on his bed, lying down until he couldn’t bear it any longer. In contrast, the Indian woman did express herself, and because she is a woman, her expressions of weakness were seen as normal. Suffering is an inevitable state of physical, emotional, or mental pain. The way a person chooses to deal with their suffering is what determines whether they are able to overcome their issues. Both James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway masterfully use the theme of suffering to depict how it impacts different people in different situations.

The deadline is too short to read someone else's essay
Hire a verified expert to write you a 100% Plagiarism-Free paper

Cite this page

An Analysis of Suffering in Indian Camp and Sonnys Blues. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from