In the 1920s and 1930s, Harlem was the main focus of the Harlem Renaissance, which was an outpouring of art and music in the African American community. Though Harlem was the center of black culture, the drugs, poverty, and overall oppressive living conditions, made living in Harlem more difficult, especially for Sonny because of the poor surroundings. Around when Sonny got out of jail, he and the narrator were looking at their surroundings while in the cab on their way home. The brothers notice “the green of the park and the stony, lifeless elegance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets of our childhood.” While Sonny and his brother are in the cab, they see the nice elegant hotels that are in the better areas, but when they get to their neighborhood, they notice the lifeless, rundown, streets in Harlem. In addition, they are looking at their neighborhood and realized that everything has been the same and nothing had changed. Sonny realized when he came back to Harlem that “nothing had changed.” And that he was just “older.” The poor living condition exposes them to the reality of hopelessness and changelessness that is Harlem. It was like Sonny was in a box, protected and watched over with no worries, but when he came out of that box, it was almost as if he were being sucked into a black hole being pulled into a world that was full of bad things and he didn’t know how to handle it. Therefore, Sonny turned to drugs as a scapegoat to ignore the suffering he had been going through.
Drugs were a very big problem in Harlem especially towards African Americans. It was hard for them to get jobs and music didn’t earn them enough money. So, many turned to drugs and the drug trade. This was so they could get paid for it and to end their suffering. Towards the end of the book, Sonny and the narrator listen to the two women and the man singing church songs expressing their pain. Sonny described the woman’s voice as of “what heroine feels like sometimes.” Sonny stated, “It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant. And—and sure. It makes you feel—in control. Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling.” For Sonny, heroine makes him feel in control of himself. For others, they there are some that “live in hell” and know it but they just go on with their lives. For others, like Sonny, they suffer by using the drugs to keep himself from “shaking to pieces.” Even though for others, they start to realize at a young age, what possibilities do they have? The boys “were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities.” As the boys