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The narrator of “Sonny’s Blues” is an algebra teacher, teaching in the same area where he grew up, Harlem. The narrator remains unnamed throughout the entirety of the events that unfold in the story, possibly an attempt to shift more attention to the narrator’s younger brother, Sonny, or even foreshadowing that the narrator will spend a significant amount of time developing Sonny’s character. Although Sonny’s name appears in the title, we are given the picture of Harlem and it’s domain through the eyes of the narrator, and as such, the narrator is still the main protagonist. A recurring theme throughout the story is the essence of music, or more precisely the power of music. Beginning with the title, “Sonny’s Blues” may be interpreted in many ways, most likely that is the way that James Baldwin intended. The narrator, although lacking a name, is a fully developed character, who further develops his human characteristics throughout the course of the story. “Sonny’s Blues” observes and scrutinizes Sonny through the eyes of the narrator. A significant motif in “Sonny’s Blues” is that of imprisonment, both literal and figurative. With all of these conflicts simultaneously battering away at the narrator, he changes drastically throughout the story, overcoming a story rife with trials and tribulations.
“Sonny’s Blues” is told though the eyes of the unnamed narrator, Sonny’s older brother. It may be concluded that the narrator is reliable, for all of his faults make him human, giving the perception that he is telling the story from a sober, rational, point of view. In the standard sense, the narrator has succeeded in life. He has a wife, two children, and a job as a teacher. The narrator spends some time depicting the area where he and Sonny were raised, he notes the drug dealing in plain sight, the atrocities of the projects, and how drugs have affected his younger brother, Sonny. While reading the newspaper one morning, the narrator reads that Sonny has been arrested and sent to prison for a drug related incident in a raid the night before. On his way home from school the same day, the narrator spots one of Sonny’s friends, who he proceeds to have a conversation with about Sonny. He feels hatred and pity for Sonny’s friend, and during their conversation, has a miniature epiphany. The narrator realizes how difficult Sonny’s life has been, and how difficult it will continue to be while battling a drug addiction.
The narrator reconnects with Sonny while Sonny is in incarcerated. After a drug deal gone bad, Sonny is picked up by the authorities for distribution and use of a controlled substance. When the narrator initially finds out that his little brother is in prison, he is infuriated and vastly disappointed with his younger brother. The narrator decides to completely shun Sonny, never going to visit him or mail him a letter while he is in prison. At the same time, Sonny never reaches out to the narrator because he is afraid that he will cause too much pain, leading to a vicious cycle of the two brothers ignoring each other. Back at home, the narrator’s daughter passes away. This causes the narrator, who up until this point has stayed rather emotionless in the story, with the exception of expressing anger, to become sentimental enough to reach out to Sonny. After the first letter, the narrator and Sonny stay in touch throughout the remainder of Sonny’s time in prison. Sonny expresses to the narrator how much he needed to hear from him, which makes the narrator begin to feel better, knowing that his brother needs him. After Sonny gets out of prison, the narrator allows Sonny to live with him and his family, showing that the narrator loves and cares very much for his little brother, despite his initial rage at the time of Sonny’s incarceration.
After having Sonny live with him and his family for a few weeks, the narrator battles with the idea of searching Sonny’s…