James Arthur Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York where he lived for the next twenty-four years. He was one of many young black men to experience childhood through the guise of a broken home, as his father was a drug addict and passed away when James was only fourteen. A mere five years later his stepfather died. Discrimination was something that was ingrained in Baldwin's DNA, and it ran the gamut from racism, to the bias against his sexual orientation. As he discovered his sexuality in his teen-age years, he continued to bear the burden of oppression and discrimination, but now it attacked on another front. In 1968 unable to fight the discrimination aimed toward homosexuals and blacks, Baldwin moved to France. Many of these forms of oppression and discrimination are apparent in Baldwin's essays, novels and social criticism. However it is "Sonny's Blues," a short story found in Going to Meet the Man that lends the greatest insight into Baldwin's struggles. .
"Sonny's Blues," was written in 1957 and serves as a semi-autobiographical account of the authors struggles. By contrasting the lives of two brothers, who were both afforded the same opportunity, but chose different paths he is able to offer an insightful commentary on the struggle of blacks living in the racial division of Harlem. Baldwin imbues the story with many aspects of his own experiences, such as the discrimination, poverty and the tragic events such a life will inevitably include. Comparing and contrasting this story with the path of its author, illuminates the myriad of ways that experience can come to influence and even create fiction. .
The narrator in "Sonny's Blues," is a school teacher, the story begins with him teaching an Algebra class, as he is simultaneously digesting the revelation of his Brother Sonny's incarceration. Baldwin uses both imagery and metaphor as he writes "A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long" (73).