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Literature Abstract

My Cup Runneth Over:

The Evolution of Acceptance in “Sonny’s Blues”

“Not everything that can be faced can changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced”

James Baldwin

The greatest gift of literature is the mirror it provides for us to see ourselves both as we are and who we can be.

James Baldwin, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, was a creative advocate of this method, as demonstrated in his writing. Sonny’s Blues, one of Baldwin’s most widely read and discussed short stories, asks the reader to consider provocative questions when it comes to the messages Baldwin conveys through the story of the relationship between Sonny, a talented musician struggling with a heroin addiction and his brother, who is never named yet clearly shown as the opposite of Sonny regarding personality and stability. As with many writers with a religious foundation, Baldwin intersperses Biblical language and references throughout the story, ending with a scene in a jazz club of the brother (also story narrator) describing Sonny reaching for a glass of Scotch and milk, a drink he sent to congratulate Sonny at the end of his musical set:

“"For me, then, as they began to play again, it glowed and shook above my brother's head like the very cup of trembling”

Using this Biblical image as referenced in the “cup of trembling,” my research contends the cup reference is specific to the evolution of acceptance for Sonny and his brother, of not only each other but themselves. I assert this acceptance is an unexplored area in relationship to Baldwin’s own challenges with living authentically in 20th century America: a homosexual, African American man who loved a country with a history of conflicted love for him and his peers. By focusing on acceptance in this regard, the theme of redemption through vulnerability is shown as the true “savior” in Sonny’s Blues.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

English and Literature


acceptance, tolerance, religion, worldview, compassion, African American literature


Arts and Humanities

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Christine Cynn, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies


© The Author(s)

Recommended Citation

Golden, Timothy Joseph. “Epistemic Addiction: Reading “Sonny's Blues” with Levinas, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 26, no. 3, 2012, pp.554-571. Stone, Caitlin. “Lost and Found: The Fall of Grace in Sonny’s Blues.” The Explicator, vol. 71, no. 4, 2013, pp.251-254. Takach, James. “The Biblical Foundation of James Baldwin’s "Sonny’s Blues.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, vol. 59, no. 2, 2007, pp. 109-133.

My Cup Runneth Over: The Evolution of Acceptance in Sonny's Blues