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When you compare Louis Erdrich’s story “The Red Convertible” and James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues”, they seem like completely different stories. “The Red Convertible” is about two brothers, Lyman and Henry, who grow up on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. The two brothers share a strong bond that is personified through their love for a certain red car that they share. They go through an amazing Journey and discover a lot about each other. On the other hand, “Sonny’s Blues” is also about two brothers, however their Journey goes a completely different oute than Lyman and Henry’s.
In “Sonny’s Blues”, the narrator and his little brother, Sonny, start out as distant and forgotten family members. Through Sonny’s love for music, and his older brother’s gradual acceptance, the two grow a stronger bond than ever before. Although the two are indeed about different topics, there are some parallels to recognize as well.
“The Red Convertible” and “Sonnys Blues” are alike for many reasons, but the most prominent similarity is the theme of brotherhood. For instance, in “Sonny’s Blues”, the dynamic between the two brothers changes from eing completely distant to finally understanding each other, despite their differences.
The growth of a relationship is an important factor in true brotherhood. An example of the two brothers taking a step in the right direction is when they meet after Sonny is let out of prison. It has been a while since they have spoken last, and the older brother narrates, miet, when he smiled, when we shook 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.
” (Baldwin, 312) The other brother is realizing that e has never really known his baby brother because his true self was always buried beneath the mask of his drug addiction.
We can see here that the other brother is seeing that Sonny is trying to let himself “into the light”, or trying to finally get himself to a better place in life. The turning point in the story where Sonny’s love for music gets truly understood by his brother, is at the end of the story when he is playing his gig. The older brother states, “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. (Baldwin, 324) This statement by Sonny’s older brother shows that he has finally opened up his heart to accept that his little brother is getting better and expressing himself through music. Like in “Sonny’s Blues”, Henry and Lyman go through a similar Journey in “The Red Convertible”, where they discover their own Journey through brotherhood. Unlike Sonny’s progression of his relationship with his brother, Henry and Lyman’s relationship starts out very strong but dies out in the end. Although the two stories have different outcomes, the core theme of brotherhood is the same.
In “The Red Convertible”, Henry and Lyman are best friends, and spend every moment hanging out with each other. They are inseparable, until Henrys decision to Join the army for three years tears them apart. When Henry returns, Lyman is concerned as he remembers the “times we’d sat still for the whole afternoon, Henry always had a Joke, then, too, and now you couldn’t get him to laugh” (Erdrich, 74). Lyman is realizing that his brother nas changed and is disassociated wit n his tormer selt. Lyman is pain stricken because the strength of their brotherhood was slipping through his fingers.
Overall, both stories express the motivation and strength that a brotherhood can give. Despite their similarities in overall theme, the two stories are different regarding the symbols that connect the brothers. In “Sonny’s Blues”, the factor that allowed Sonny and his brother to break the barrier between them was his music. Living in Harlem, there isn’t many ways to express yourself or let yourself be heard, so music was an escape. Through Sonny’s infatuation with music, his brother was able o see beyond his drug addiction and begin to start the re-birth of their relationship.
At the end of the story, Sonny’s brother was watching him play, “But Just before they started playing again, Sonny sipped from it and looked toward me, and nodded” (Baldwin, 326). At this point, it is as if Sonny’s brother accepted him through the music and finally feels that connection that only brothers can share. Music is a central symbol in “Sonny’s Blues” and creates a stepping stone for the two brothers’ relationship to grow. On the other hand, we have “The Red Convertible”, which has a uch different object that directs the story.
In “The Red Convertible”, Henry and Lyman’s relationship is driven by their love for their red car they had bought together. The red flashy car resembles the boys’ resilient and carefree view on life, and the strength of the bond they shared in the beginning of the story. However, after Henry returns from Vietnam, he is a changed man and according to Lyman, “The change was no good. ” (Erdrich, 72) Lyman hopes that “the car might bring the old Henry back somehow’ (Erdrich, 75), but is let down when Henry shows no interest in he car.
Ironically, Henry ends up destroying the car which, symbolically, destroys the relationship between the two brothers as well. Like the music in “Sonny’s Blues”, the red car in “The Red Convertible” was a symbol for the change in the brothers’ relationship. The relationship between two brothers can be transitive, whether it starts distant and grow close like in “Sonny’s Blues”, or the other way around as we saw in “The Red Convertible”. While each story may have different symbols and storylines, we still see the theme of both – the true nature of brotherhood.
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