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In James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny Blues” a schoolteacher from the city of Harlem questions his brotherly obligations after finding out that his younger brother has been arrested for selling and using heroin. The narrator continues to go through obstacles in his daily life trying to figure out how to help save his troubled, addictive brother.
When growing up, the two brothers grew up around poverty which the brothers had to try to avoid drugs and violence due to where they lived and for their own safety.
Although, Sonny always struggled to stay out of trouble and once he landed in jail, the narrator soon realizes he should try helping his young brother instead of continuing to push him away.
Eventually, the brother’s relationship begun to slowly recover after the narrator’s daughter, Grace passed away. After grace’s passing, the narrator’s tragic event changed his whole perspective on his younger brother Sonny. He began to grow feelings of regret for not being there more for the people he loves and cares about and begins to have more of an interest in the wellbeing of his younger brother.
He begins to have communicated with Sonny and wrote to him while in prison. Once Sonny got out of jail, the narrator invites Sonny to live with his family until he finishes college.
This is where a big turning point happens with the narrator’s character because he finally began to wonder about Sonny’s previous lifestyle and wanted to start making efforts to take care of his younger brother like he once promised too when he was younger.
When Sonny moved in with his older brother, he was given the opportunity to finish college but had to stay out of all sorts of trouble, except Sonny had different expectations for himself by skipping classes to go to a local jazz club to play music. When the narrator finds out what Sonny has been pursuing his music career instead of finishing college, he is upset and frustrated because he believes it was part of the reason why Sonny has run into so much trouble in the past and doesn’t believe that it’s a good thing for his brother to be pursuing. Sonny ends up kicked out and the two go on without speaking for a long period of time but eventually, the narrator has another change of heart, invites his brother to come to live with him again and Sonny also invites the narrator to come to watch him perform at the jazz club and when he comes to see his brother perform that is when the narrator truly understands Sonny.
While the narrator watches Sonny play music, he sees the facial expressions that are brought out of Sonny as he continues to play. He sees all the struggles and pain that music was Sonny’s escape from his reality and also an escape from his past that he had to deal with. The narrator had compassion for his little brother and finally understood who Sonny is after watching him play.
Throughout the entire story of “Sonny’s Blue’s” the main character, Sonny’s unnamed brother is constantly changing as a person and had trouble understanding what Sonny really was going through. He went through the struggles of dealing with an addictive brother and wasn’t able to understand why his little brother did the things he did until the very end of the whole story. Watching Sonny play jazz music is what opened his eyes to the true struggles his brother has and even though Sonny was portrayed as a bad troubled young boy, Sonny is still a good person who dealt with addiction and depression just like many others do.
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