Sonny's Blues

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James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” recounts the troubled history and unlikely reconciliation of two brothers: an unnamed narrator, and his younger brother, Sonny. The story begins when the narrator, a high school teacher, reads in the newspaper that Sonny has been arrested on drug charges. As the older brother, he feels guilty for not keeping Sonny safe, since he promised their mother he would. The brothers have had a rocky relationship for several years, due largely to the narrator’s disapproval of and inability to accept Sonny. He feels that Sonny is incapable of making good decisions and needs guidance to keep him on the right path, but the narrator does not realize until later that Sonny had to make choices based on his own needs. As the story progresses, the narrator begins to understand and accept Sonny despite their different ways of coping with life and its hardships. The narrator, who is seven years older than Sonny, feels an almost paternal responsibility and guilt for the path his brother’s life has taken, largely because of a promise he made to his mother before her death. The narrator recalls his mother telling him to look out for Sonny, but he misinterprets her request. He believes she wants him to keep Sonny safe, but all she asks is that he support him and “let him know you’s there.” As the narrator reminisces about the way he dealt with Sonny in the past, he begins to recognize how he failed to honor his mother’s request that he be supportive of his brother. He has long been aware of his estranged brother’s troubles, but it is not until the death of his daughter that the narrator is able to understand and sympathize with Sonny’s plight, stating simply, “My trouble made his real.” The narrator writes a letter to Sonny, and in Sonny’s response, he states that he needed to hear from his brother, again reminding the narrator of his promise to his mother. The narrator has begun to realize that Sonny’s addiction arose as a means of escaping the...
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