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Comparing the Similarities and Differences in the Settings, Symbols, and Characters in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin and a Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

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The short story titled Sonny’s Blues written by James Baldwin, and the play A Doll’s House written by Henrik Ibsen, have many similarities and differences when it comes to settings, symbols, and characters. Although they may seem like two completely different works, they have a lot more similarities than expected. James Baldwin and Henrik Ibsen use their protagonist to express an idea of breaking free from a restrictive society to accomplish genuine happiness. Being restricted by the roles they play in society, the main characters attempt to break free from conventional societal perceptions to understand the world of the unknown on their own. Using the point by point method, a better understanding of the similarities and differences between these two works will be accomplished.

Mid-twentieth century Harlem, a time and place of racial injustice, poverty, and discrimination, is the setting chosen for the short story Sonny’s Blues. In the beginning of the story, Sonny and his family are trapped in the ghetto because of the color of their skin, showing readers that they are not in harmony. Due to the circumstances of this time, the protagonist Sonny has a very small perspective on the world that he lives in. Because of the restrictions that society creates for people of color, Sonny goes down the wrong path and loses himself. Sonny’s brother explains “Yet, when he smiled, when we show hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light (189).” Sonny’s brother explains that although society has imprisoned him, he is a prisoner in his private life as well. Because Sonny has spent the last few years encaged like an animal by society, he must realize what he needs to do to turn his life around and release himself from the restrictions created by the world that he is a part of.

Late-nineteenth century Norway, was not a place of racial injustice, but rather social injustice. Although this was a time where women we’re treated unfairly and had little to no say in things, the play begins with the characters being in harmony because it is Christmas time. This is a time that symbolizes family, birth, and sacrifice. Although this should be a time of rejoicing with family, Nora is trapped by the limitations her husband and society place on her. With no source of income because women were not allowed to work at this time, Nora faces obstacles on her own to overcome this tragic time.

Music plays a big role in the way that Sonny alters his perspective on his life. To refrain from getting into trouble, Sonny chooses a path of becoming a musician to express himself in a way that society would not be able to put a limit on. Sonny’s brother explains Sonny’s passion for music when he says, “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness (194).” Sonny turns to music as a sign of redemption, to free him from all of his sins, and to experience true happiness, which gives the readers a sense of biblical reference. Sonny yearns for salvation and to rid his life of the community’s control.

Ibsen uses the symbol of a doll to enhance the readers’ perception on the protagonist Nora. Living in a home with a husband and 3 kids, Nora is expected to not work because that is considered a man’s duty. Her doll-like existence, being moved around from place to place by her husband, and previously her father, limits her from becoming an individual.

Nora, the wife of a somewhat wealthy man, experiences a sacrificial role filled with prejudice and discrimination due to gender. There are many instances where Nora experiences restrictions by the people in her life based solely on the fact that she is a woman. The first instance of discrimination is when Nora confronts Krogstad about a loan, he insists on getting a man’s signature. Although Nora incurred this debt, she is persistent and determined to have it paid back, even if she must conceal is from her husband. Nora explains her role in life when she says “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. Thats how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life (229),” implying that society views men as the dominant partner in marriage. This shows the readers that Nora is aware of the way she has been living to please her husband, but has not taken the time to achieve genuine happiness in her life. Standing up to societal prejudice views against women, Nora’s courage allows her to leave her husband and put an end to her doll-like living experience so that she could find herself. Nora sacrifices her family to save from corrupting them.

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Comparing the Similarities and Differences in the Settings, Symbols, and Characters in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin and a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. (2018, October 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from
“Comparing the Similarities and Differences in the Settings, Symbols, and Characters in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin and a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.” GradesFixer, 18 Oct. 2018,
Comparing the Similarities and Differences in the Settings, Symbols, and Characters in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin and a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Jun. 2021].
Comparing the Similarities and Differences in the Settings, Symbols, and Characters in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin and a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 18 [cited 2021 Jun 11]. Available from:
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