Sonny's Blues

By: James Baldwin
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Summary/ Overview
The story opens with the anonymous narrator describing his response to his brother ,Sonny, being arrested for drug possession. While he knows Sonny has taken the wrong road in life, the narrator realizes he underestimated his idea. He is dumbfounded, though he knows that this road is traveled regularly in Harlem's African-American population. The narrator runs into one of Sonny's old friends, who blames himself for the arrest. The narrator also blames him but soon learns more about his brother from the individual. He learns about Sonny's passion, his music.
Some time later, the narrator's daughter dies and he attempts to contact Sonny with the news. After his release from prison, Sonny moves in with his brother, the narrator. One day, an argument arises and Sonny explains to his brother that he uses drugs to escape his pain. Sonny then explains his love for playing the piano, which the narrator partly blames for his drug addiction. Sonny attempts to change this viewpoint by inviting the narrator to listen to him play at a local jazz club that night. After much hesitation, the narrator agrees.
After Sonny gets over his nerves of playing for people again, he astounds the narrator with his passion. The anonymous brother now completely understands how helpful the music is for Sonny.

Key Concepts/ Themes
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The major theme of the story deals with the feeling of being misunderstood. In the story, the main character's brother, Sonny, feels as though no one understands him
, so as a result he turns to drugs and a life of crime. It certainly does not help that they are black in a white society, at a time when racism was very common. Sonny's life took a turn for the worst as a result of being misunderstood and he becomes addicted to heroine, which he also
happens to sell. His drug addiction leads him in and out of jail, which also strains he and his brother's relationship. His brother has no pity on Sonny, because of their relationship.
Sonny and his brother are complete opposites, because they each went down two different paths in life. Sonny took to the drug dependent life of crime, while his brother went down the more respectable path of becoming a teacher. The narrator feels as though his brother is just being stubborn. He does not realize that he may have a serious problem and that Sonny needs his help. It is not until he witnesses Sonny playing with his band when he truly realizes that Sonny is misunderstood. The narrator also discovers that music is Sonny's passion and that he uses it as a way to express himself.

Important Symbols

An important symbol in Sonny's Blues would be the contrast between good and evil. It is known throughout the story that Sonny is involved with drugs and that is the evil side. Sonny uses the drugs to be able to get relief from his emotional distresses and his problems in his life. Even though, all the while, the drugs are still causing a negative affect to his life. The good part of the story is how Sonny uses music to express himself. He is able to play the piano and let his emotions flow through his music. Through the playing of the piano the reader is able to see how the music allows Sonny to calm down and let his emotions out. The music also gives Sonny a chance to show his focus on his future. Sonny's brother tries to cut Sonny down and tell him that he will never make anything out of himself being a musician, but Sonny is determined to show his brother otherwise.

Important Characters

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Pictures Sonny's Blues
Pictures Sonny's Blues

  • The narrator (Sonny's Brother)- The reader never finds out exactly what his name is; all we know that is the story is told from his perspective. He allows the reader to know intimate details about he and his family but not his name, which is pretty weird. From the opening scene of the story, the reader finds out that he is a teacher, which shows that he is on a totally different path in life than his brother. In fact, they are complete opposites.He lives a more modest lifestyle, while Sonny is on a highway to hell. He has a very strained relationship with his brother, due to all of Sonny's mishaps. He has no sympathy for Sonny, mostly because he does not understand him. It is not until he hears Sonny's music that he realizes his pain and is he able to somewhat feel Sonny's struggles through his music.

  • Sonny- He is the most important character in the story, because the entire story is centered around his life. Sonny is the troubled brother of the narrator. As the story begins, the reader discovers that Sonny has been arrested for selling heroin; the same drug in which he also happens to be heavily addicted to. He is viewed as a failure when compared to his brother, because of their totally different choices in life. He has conflicts with his brother, due to the fact he feels as though he is misunderstood. To cope with his stress and struggles, he turns to music to somewhat maintain his sanity.

"Sonnys Blues | SF Station." SF Station - San Francisco's City Guide. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <http://www.sfstation.com/sonny-s-blues- a7831>.

Photograph. Summer Concerts. Web. <http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.buenavistatownship.org/images/piano_player.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.buenavistatownship.org/summer_concerts.htm&usg=__s6haZA9QsmBtaDDuiFREU2aAK5M=&h=248&w=427&sz=4&hl=en&start=26&zoom=1&tbnid=IyVDm43CzjUiSM:&tbnh=81&tbnw=140&ei=dMmMTdHqMaST0QH5pbnCCw&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpiano%2Bplayer%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26biw%3D1366%26bih%3D546%26tbs%3Disch:10%2C636&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=91&vpy=164&dur=587&hovh=171&hovw=295&tx=169&ty=88&oei=Z8mMTf7iCMGXtwf70cidDQ&page=2&ndsp=26&ved=1t:429,r:18,s:26&biw=1366&bih=546>.