In the story “Sonny’s Blues” by Baldwin James, two characters, Sonny and his brother, the narrator, have a complex relationship. In the story, the narrator, who mainly focuses on telling us about Sonny’s story, is seen as a peripheral character as the main focus is on Sonny, making him the central character. Sonny’s brother is touched by his music which redeems him leading to the rebirth of their previous complex relationship. The two are complete opposites of each other as they have very different personalities. At first, the narrator has a stable job as a mathematics teacher while his brother separates himself and engages in music, specifically Blues music. The narrator does not appreciate his brother’s motivation for music and even distances himself from him and the entire district of Harlem. From the beginning, the relationship between the narrator and Sonny is not good as he is far more judgemental of his brother’s actions. Throughout the story, it evolves and strengthens as they gain a better understanding of their past experiences.
The narrator had secluded himself from the life of Harlem and ensured he concentrated on teaching mathematics. Although he tried hard to live a different life from that in Harlem, he still had flashbacks. While teaching, he would constantly be reminded of Sonny, primarily when music-related, such as tunes, could be heard. The narrator had cut ties with Sonny, with no single communication between the two. Baldwin narrates that the narrator states, “I didn’t write Sonny or send him anything for a long time” (97). He only made contact with Sonny after the death of his daughter, which Sonny replied to, making him feel like a bastard. From that day, the two started to be in constant contact, especially when Sonny went to New York. The narrator offered support to Sonny, sending him whatever little he could get. The complicated relationship the two had started to get redeemed as they steered towards the path of forgiveness. The way toward a better relationship was already prepared; it was only a matter of time.
The narrator confessed that he wondered what life his brother was living inside. His thoughts show he cared, though he did not want to express his feelings openly. At this point, he had gotten over the bad blood between them and focused more on mending their complicated relationship. As the two engaged in conversation on their way to the narrator’s house, he seemed insecure about his articulations and responses to Sonny as he feared angering him or making him feel inferior or mocked. Ever since they were still young, Sonny has been interested in music. He admired Charlie Parker, one of the most excellent Jazz musicians. The narrator disliked music and occasionally tried to unmotivate Sonny, thus the beginning of their complex relationship. Even after finally reconciling and engaging in small talks, the two still did not entirely communicate freely. For the two weeks they stayed together, they barely engaged in conversations; Sonny was away when the narrator was home.
After a deep conversation, the two finally departed for a nightclub, the only one downtown. Here, the narrator was introduced to some singers who worked closely with Sonny. Sonny, Creole, and another musician prepared to play and entertain the fans that waited eagerly. They prepared to play blues music which was Sonny’s favorite. Creole prepared the stage for Sonny, the main singer of the day. His music touched on the life experienced by all of the listeners. From the lyrics, the narrator begins to have flashbacks about his mother, his father, and his dead daughter. He got a glimpse of how life must be hard out there. The narrator was touched by the songs played, integrating a new feeling and thought of blues music. He realizes that Sonny is loved and that he has a world that he does not know. The narrator comes to appreciate music when he realizes that it tells everyone a story in a way that makes the audience listen and confront their hardships.
The relationship between the narrator and Sonny started being complex ever since Sonny was young. The narrator preferred living a life of seclusion from others and his community. He disliked the ways of living his brother had been engaging in, including dreaming about music and using drugs. He pursued his dreams, which resulted in him being a mathematics teacher. At school, he occasionally had daydreams that made him think of his brother Sonny, whom he had not talked to for a long time. They finally communicate when the narrator’s daughter, Grace, succumbs. After finally meeting, Sonny is taken to his brother’s place, where he meets his brother’s family. They rarely engage in conversations, but Sonny finally invites the narrator to a show he will perform. After attending, the narrator listens to Sonny’s performance and finally realizes why music is his passion. He acknowledges that music entails life experiences that people can relate to as it involves reality. From the performance and the applause received by Sonny, he realized that his brother had a life different from that he knew.
Baldwin, James. Sonny’s Blues. The New York City literature magazine, Partisan Review, 1957.