Course Readings and Life Experiences: Commentary on Three Stories

“Sonny’s Blues” written by James Baldwin, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, and “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara are all deeply moving, minority stories that have helped me to see how the experiences of others can very aptly be depicted in literature.  I can, also, relate to some of the themes such as the concept of education, conflicts amongst family members, and what defines clarity.  All three stories depict characters that have obstacles to face due to race, addiction, or disability. In these characters, the reader can better understand the human condition and the intricate relationships that impact us, if we take the time to learn these life lessons.  Similarly, these stories can help us to see that some themes of literature and in life are universal and we can relate to many parts of these texts if we can strive to identify and magnify ourselves in certain passages.When it comes to being open to learn life’s lessons, “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara is an ideal story that both helps the reader to understand minority life in terms of poverty and inequality, in addition to helping one to redefine what education consists of.  Sylvia, the protagonist in the story is a very strong and open character that helps to open up the realities of the lives of the marginalized.  Sylvia is, at first, hesitant to learn from Miss Moore and I think we all go into the system of education with an attitude similar to hers.  Especially when a person feels that so-called “street smarts” are more important to have than something that can be given by a college educated person, there is probably more hesitation.  It seems too that most of the education that is deemed important in the early years revolve around the idea of the “American Dream”.  To read the story and see that Miss Moore suggests otherwise to these young children is interesting and it makes me wonder if I would have thought differently about things if I would have realized that inequality existed and was not afraid to say this aloud.  Sylvia, though, most likely represents the reaction that most children would have if they heard something that upset them and that is to shrug the information off and run from it, as she literally did at the end of the story.Both “The Lesson” and “Sonny’s Blues” written by James Baldwin illustrate the issues with poverty and the need to overcome life’s troubles even at the cost of family conflict or community disapproval.  In “The Lesson”, Sylvia says that “where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always pointin out.  But it don’t necessarily have to be that way.”  This shows that where we live is important and I have thought of my life and the lives of others when I read this to imagine how hard it must be to live in an economically disadvantaged area and how important both race and place are in life.  But, like it states in the text, it doesn’t have to be that way, which makes me feel more respect for those that fight for the same, equal treatment from others.  Sonny in “Sonny’s Blues”, also, fights with his brother and proves that, regardless of the status quo and expectations from those around us, we can become who we are meant to be.  The struggle to get there is painful, but it is worth it.Sonny and his brother, the narrator, are two very different people.  They try to do the same things and Sonny takes the path his brother took, a stint in the military.  But, this proves the difference of the brothers to that point, as the narrator easily conforms to his career and his life and work after the military.  Sonny, however, comes back as a listless and downtrodden person, who begins to use heroine more frequently to feel control over his life and to stop his suffering as much as possible.  The pain that Sonny feels for being misunderstood is parallel to the pain that his brother feels in not being able to help him with his addiction.   The narrator learns that the key a better brotherly relationship is through the understanding of his brother and the art of his music.  When the narrator does listen to Sonny’s music, he realizes that it was Sonny that was his teacher and not the other way around.  This is another example of life’s interesting lessons.  The narrator says “freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did”.  This makes sense to me in that making sense of others, helps us to better know ourselves and it is freeing to be that open to trying to understand others.The main character of “Cathedral” is very nervous about the subject of blindness, he makes jokes about the condition, due to his anxiety and many people can relate, including myself in feeling uncomfortable with people, who are disabled or otherwise different. With each drink that is taken by the characters, however the narrator becomes more relaxed.  It can be said that total clarity on the part of the characters is lost and things can be seen in a different way, as the characters drink and smoke marijuana.  The narrator becomes more open-minded, so the cathedral drawing made by he and Robert really is the time when the concept of clarity changes. It is here that the whole essence of blindness can be vividly understood as clear insight and being able to see things in a different way. The narrator says “but I had my eyes closed.  I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer.  I thought it was something I ought to do”.  Just as in the other two stories, a lesson is learned here, as well.All stories are complete with lessons and themes of troubles that can be transformed if the narrators and readers take the time to heed these lessons.  The issues surrounding minorities, the disabled, and drug addicted are many times ignored if they are not put into literature in such an artful way.  The strong nature of the subject matter and the universal conflicts that surround much of the writing is useful for many reasons, to educate and to entertain.  If one can take something useful from these stories, other than just being entertained by them, then this proves how powerful literature can be and “Sonny’s Blues”, “The Lesson”, and “Cathedral” are all powerful in different ways, but with similar themes.In conclusion, all three stories helped me to better understand how uncomfortable at times it is to delve into subjects related to class, poverty, race, disability, and a whole host of other social problems that exist today.  As with the narrator in “Cathedral”, I was nervous in examining and trying to relate to these issues.  When I saw that there was a theme of being taught something in the text, however, coupled with Sylvia’s reaction to being educated, it made this task easier.  Not only could I see the conflicts inherent in people that are different than I, I was able to see parts of myself and relate to it.  “Sonny’s Blues”, especially made me realize that family conflict and misunderstanding is common and that freedom comes from that understanding.  When these topics are put in such a profound way, it seems as if there are moments of complete clarity, like in “Cathedral”, where all things that were once seen a certain way are suddenly shifted to a new light.  I know do see others and myself differently as a result of these powerful stories.Works CitedJames Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” in 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology ed. Beverly Lawn, Macmillan, (2004).Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson” in 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology ed. Beverly Lawn, Macmillan, (2004).Raymond Carver, ““Cathedral” in 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology ed. Beverly Lawn, Macmillan, (2004).