Contrasting Views of Love and Success in Sonny’s Blues and My Mortal Enemy In the stories of “Sonny’s Blues” and “My Mortal Enemy” there were contrasting views of love and success. The main characters in these stories have their own views of what both mean to them. In “Sonny’s Blues,” there is a conflict of what defines success to Sonny and his brother and this conflict is also wrapped around the love they have for each other even though it seems as if they hate each other most of the time they actually have loved one another all along but have been torn apart by conflicts what defines of success.
Each has found it a bit challenging to accept the other’s way of living and views. In “My Mortal Enemy,” this story is also about love and success. In this story, Myra loves Oswald very much in the beginning of the story, but as the story goes on it is obvious that she loves money and success much more. I will contrast the two stories as point out the differences of the story’s main character’s stance on love and success. Our society does tend to label or categorize people based on race, class, religion, and success to name a few.
In regards to Sonny’s Blues, the label seems to focus on success and brotherly love. It is true that Sonny’s brother has worked hard to escape the ghetto, earn a college degree, and settle into a middle-class existence; Society sees him as successful and admirable. On the other hand, society looks at Sonny and sees a loser as does his own brother. To answer the questions—can we only learn from those who are successful or those who are losers? I would have to say that we can learn from both. We usually refer to someone as a loser when they do not follow the societal norm.
Since Sonny’s brother, in society’s eyes, did everything that everyone else did or was doing, he was considered successful and admirable, whereas his brother was involved with one of the sub-cultures of the time. At that time, society viewed this group of people as “losers” as they were not following the norm, and they were caught up in the drug culture as well. I think that to say we can only learn from successful people verses “losers” is false. I believe people can learn from everyone just as Sonny’s brother said, “Sonny’s music was very beautiful because it wasn’t hurried and it was no longer a lament (484).
He seemed to hear with what a burning Sonny had made the music his, with what burning they had yet to make theirs, and how they could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around them and he understood, at last, that Sonny could help them be free if they would just listen. ” However for most of the story, Sonny’s brother kept pushing what success is on his brother which at times pushed Sonny further and further away. His brother, the teacher, did not really feel too successful in the meaning of the word. In the text, it says that after the last bell rang he let out his breath. 454) He said it had seemed he was holding it for quite a while, and he was sweating a lot as if he had been sitting in a steam bath. He also was listening to the students shouting, cursing, and laughing, yet it was not the sound of joyous laughter that one would associate with children. He believed it was mocking and insular and the intent was to denigrate. As he was looking out the window at the students and other teachers in the courtyard, he noticed that the teachers seemed as if they could not wait to get out if the courtyard. He was then reminded of his brother Sonny, and in the other students he heard his brother. 455) I feel that he felt that he had failed his brother and now he is failing his students which in some way maybe substitutes for his brother and the relationship they once had. He may also feel that since he failed his brother in life, keeping him out of trouble and such, he is now trying to save or protect his current students. However from the feeling of the text, I think he believes he is failing them as well. If you think about it that way, maybe Sonny’s brother is successful on the outside but not on the inside where it seems to matter more for him.
Even if this is true you can tell that he really does care for his brother and can feel the “brotherly love. ” Sonny’s mother, who asked the older brother to watch over Sonny, was basically asking him to be his brother’s keeper. After the talk they had about the father’s best friend being killed and the stuff around it, Sonny’s mother told his Sonny’s brother the whole story and said, “There is a lot you don’t know, but you are going to find out. You got to hold on to your brother, and don’t let him fall no matter what it looks like is happening to im and no matter how evil you gets with him. You going to be evil with him many a time. But don’t you forget what I am telling you. ” (466) Sonny’s brother agreed. This is where the brotherly love comes in although it may seem like he was being forced. After his mother’s death, Sonny’s life had been marred by many negative things like drugs and prison. At one point the tension is so great that after one of the many fights, Sonny tells his brother to consider him dead—this is only temporary. By the end of the story, the narrator has taken Sonny back into his home.
His finally takes on the role of his brother’s keeper, constantly watching and worrying over Sonny as he emerges from the darkness places of his life. The idea of brotherly love extends beyond the relationship between the narrator and Sonny into the community as a whole. Harlem is plagues by drugs, poverty, and frustration, but member of the community come together to watch over and protect one another. The adults spend their Saturday afternoons sharing stories, providing a sense of warmth and protection to the children around them. 463) The narrator who was angered my one of Sonny’s drug addicted friends, in the end sees the connection to him and offers him money. Even Sonny, for all his problems, helps the people around him (brothers and sisters) endure and survive by channeling their frustrated desires into his music. As for “My Mortal Enemy,” this story too is about love and success. In the beginning when we were being told the story of how Myra and Oswald met and the circumstances which they had to deal with for their love, we learned that John Driscoll at came at Myra with a cold, business proposition.
He had said that if she married Oswald, he would cut her off without a penny (408), but if she did not marry him she would have inherit 2/3 of his property. He also told her to consider it well and told her that “it’s better to be a stray dog in this world than a man without money. I’ve tried both, and I know. A poor man stinks, and God hates him,”(408) but because Myra was just as strong willed, stubborn, and had as much pride as her Uncle she choose love over money and left the house of her uncle with nothing and married Oswald.
Personally, I think because Oswald had a degree from Harvard and had a job as a personal secretary to a large company in New York which was nothing to be ashamed about especially at the time this takes place. I am assuming he made a very comfortable living, and maybe even made more than Myra’s uncle. You can visualize this through all the traveling Myra and Oswald do, as well as the area in which they live in New York, and the people they associate with as well as the furs and jewelry—they were even with her when she died.
I think the amethyst necklace, in some way, symbolized the love and success Myra and Oswald had if at even one time. We first hear of it in the beginning of the story. Myra notices Nellie looking at it and Myra sees this then says, “Does this necklace annoy you? I’ll take it off if it does. ” This upset Nellie and Myra saw that and pulled her aside and told her that they would get used to each other, and she also told Nellie that she was over praised to her ( Myra) and then tells her that it is all very well to be clever, but you mustn’t be solemn about it… 405). We then hear nothing more about it until the end of the story when Oswald gives it to her after Myra’s death. I think the reason that this necklace gave Nellie a “chill over her heart” because maybe it symbolized something not said like; money does not necessarily bring happiness, or maybe Oswald bought it for her after one of his “mistakes” with another woman (as it seems he had a few), and because of this maybe this is why she asked Nellie if it annoyed her (like Oswald did her).
Maybe the necklace on some level represented a love that was only shiny and pretty on the surface but when you looked at it differently was only a hard stone with flaws. It could also be assumed when Myra was playing the role of mentor to young couples which could suggest something was not quite right in her own life. She also says, “Love itself draws on a woman nearly all the bad luck in the world. As to why she said this is not totally explained, but I feel that she was saying because she choose love over money/success she feels that she was dealt a bad had in life.
Even though she probably loved Oswald at once point, she really loved success more which was constantly highlighted in the story from the people she hung around with, to the things she wore, places she lived, and things she said. In addition, I think when Myra said, “We’ve destroyed each other. I should have stayed with my uncle. It was money I needed. We have thrown out lives away… “as well as many other rude things she said to Oswald throughout the story, and then says on her death bed “Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy? “(441) she finally had a chance to reassess her life.
She was quite the romantic in the beginning when she left everything behind to marry Oswald meaning she probably had an optimistic attitude about what her life would become, yet as the story progresses you can see that she had become more of a realist than anything—always being pessimistic about almost everything in her life which was really reflected as she was dying. This is not to say that Myra and Oswald were not happy over the years; I believe they were. I think that with the stresses of life and circumstance may have caused some friction, they did love one another.
You can see this especially in the beginning of the story when Oswald met Myra in Parthia. Oswald, himself, even says so at the end of the story. He also says to Nellie to remember Myra as she was when she was living in New York. After she was stricken, her recollection of those things darkened. (444) In conclusion, I think that both stories no matter how difficult the lives of the characters seemed there was a common base—love. However, sometimes that love was challenged with drugs and disagreements as in “Sonny’s Blues” or by infidelities and regret as in “My Mortal Enemy. What got in the way of that love was the desire for success and with success money. Although in both stories everyone was successful in their own way, they, at times, could not accept or see it. In “Sonny’s Blues,” Sonny’s brother basically wanted to control Sonny and have him surrender to what the narrator considered acceptable success. He also used his love as a wager in that struggle. In “My Mortal Enemy,” as Myra got older she may have fell out of love with Oswald due to his indiscretions, or her regret of leaving her uncle and his money that would have been hers.
In the story you can see how much value Myra puts on success and how she wants so desperately to attain a higher status but in the end was unable to do so. In this story, love is not being used to help someone to achieve success as in “Sonny’s Blues;” it seems as if it is being taken away due to the lack of it. Either way both stories give an excellent insight into these themes of love and success. One is from the view of a black family verses the view of a white family. I wonder if this is why the stories portray the themes so differently. We can only guess and assume, but this is good for our intellectual minds.