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The childhood of both Sonny and the narrator begin with Sonny addiction to heroin at an early age around 15 and him being taken to jail and the fact that the narrator promised to their mother to never let any evil fall upon Sonny. As a selection from the main story one can understand why this is causes internal strife of the narrator.
" "Oh, honey," she said, "there's a lot that you don't know. But you are going to find out." She stood up from the window and came over to me. "You got to hold on to your brother," she said, "and don't let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him. You going to be evil with him many a time. But don't you forget what I told you, you hear?"
"I won't forget," I said. "Don't you worry, I won't forget. I won't let nothing happen to Sonny."
My mother smiled as though she was amused at something she saw in my face. Then, "You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know yous there." (Baldwin 86)
With the idea of the narrator promising to keep Sonny safe is a common theme within the story of connecting to both his brother's childhood and his father's childhood together, as they are both losing someone [their brother] and unable to gain back the lost time. As the latter of the two is temporary, due to it is a loss of their relationship during their childhood and early adult years. Sonny only truly wanted his brother to understand what his aspirations were for him and his dream. However, the narrator is far locked away in his own ideals of leading by himself as an example not allowing him to understand why exactly they are so far different in their experiences and life choices as Sonny is much different from the narrator. As McParland states as an interpretation of one part of the story, the narrator feels as if he no longer knows his brother, "His narrative, at several points, appears to ask, "Who is Sonny? What has my brother become?" (133). A branch of this problem is fueled further by the fact that he failed to protect him and broke the promise that he made to his mother about Sonny, "Two days later I was married, and then I was gone. And I had a lot of things on my mind and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on a special furlough for her funeral." (Baldwin 86). This foreshadows the cause of all the issues that pertains to the trouble of their relationship while at the same time is a direct correlation to fate of their Father's brother. As Keith Byerman states in his study of the short story,
"Her story, of the uncle's death and the father's inability to prevent it, is a parable of proper brotherly relationships. After telling the tale, she indicates its relevance: â€¦. The narrator immediately offers his interpretation: " 'Don't you worry, I won't forget. I won't let nothing happen to Sonny' ". His mother corrects his impression: " 'You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you's there' " (369)
Sonny's brother is oblivious as to what is correlating between the two separate experiences of his fathers and his current situation. While the other half of the issue is by the idea of Sonny needing to escape from the stereotype he constantly applies to himself. This is a problem that both Sonny and his brother grew up with was the racial segregation in Harlem. The narrator's mother introduces segregation into the story when she speaks to the narrator about the hardships their family has seen because due to segregation. She speaks of how the narrator's uncle had passed away when killed by a Caucasian man, and how this had affected his father deeply.
"Your father says he heard his brother scream when the car rolled over him, and he heard the wood of that guitar when it gave â€¦ the car kept on a-going and it ain't stopped till this day. And, time your father got down the hill, his brother weren't nothing but blood and pulp. â€¦ Till the day he died he weren't sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother" (Baldwin 85).
The detail that is given that his father was forever traumatized from this event that more than likely caused him to apply his racism ignorance of all white males to his sons. One can logically assume that this caused his sons to want to escape Harlem. Ironically enough the same drive to escape causes Sonny to be truly free from his captivity in the city causes him to be literally trapped and imprisoned against his free will. As this is the bottom of the maturity of the narrator
Their childhood was largely split in their experiences due to the seven-year gap between them and the different choices they made in their same ages. While further more during their childhood events furthered the relationship gap where they were no longer speaking to one another and only did Sonny's brother reached out to him when his own daughter died. Her death prompts the narrator to write to Sonny, while her name and death causes an act of grace allowing him to reach out to his brother for the first time since Sonny was incarcerated. This sparked the beginning of them rebuilding their relationship by consistently communicating through letters between the two brothers. This is further proven by a quotation from an article,
"At first, the narrator ignores Sonny; he does not visit Sonny in prison, or even write to him during his imprisonment. But the death of the narrator's daughter, Grace, prompts the narrator to write to Sonny and then welcome his prodigal brother into his home after Sonny is released from prison. The two brothers reconcile. â€¦ "Sonny's Blues" is a tale of sin and redemption. In both stories, the lost son ultimately returns to the family fold and is saved." (Tackach 112-113)
this part of Tachack's article proves the idea that the reason Sonny's brother reaches out to him to reconcile their issues is of a of brotherly love and the narrator's slow gradual change of finally understanding and listening to his brothers suffering and true voice and not overlaying his own opinions and ideas upon what Sonny's are. This change is a step towards his him supporting Sonny and understanding him, allowing him to be there for Sonny without any judgment upon his decisions that are biased from his expectations. In addition to this he is able to find a place, his place, in the narrator's family and no longer isolates himself from his [Sonny] brother. Through the letters is what allows this change to take place, Sonny explains by saying in one of his letters to his brother ,
"I can't tell you much about how I got here. I mean I don't know how to tell you. I guess I was afraid of something or I was trying to escape from something and you know I have never been very strong in the head. I'm glad Mama and Daddy are dead and can't see what's happened to their son" (Baldwin 80).
He doesn't understand either but just wants someone to listen to his strife and struggles and to understand and for his brother to live as an example to him but allow him [Sonny] to be an example to his brother of what he truly is and can be. Their relationship is of the struggle of their brotherly love and is what allows the narrator to mature almost to the point where he accepts Sonny for all his faults.
At the culmination of all the conflict between the brothers and the internal conflict of the narrator and what the promise failed to keep. Sonny begins to open up and allow his brother to enter his personal space and life he tried so hard to keep separate from his family as he felt no one understood his dreams of a jazz pianist. This is shown by the narrator fighting and debating on searching his room but is stopped by seeing the revival outside through the window, as a way of a rebirthing of their relationship and Sonny. The role of music in Sonny's life is seen even when he is still young when Sonny moves into Isabel's home, isolating himself with the piano there and practicing the same piece of music repetitively. With the climax of the story ends with Sonny inviting his brother to watch him perform his jazz music, which is the core of his life and beliefs. It ends with a symbol of trembling of the glass of scotch and milk left on the piano above him. After the suffering the narrator has put himself through by living as an example to Sonny, but as Sonny is an example to him. As best explained by Murray, " â€¦ the image of the homely Scotch-and-milk glass transformed into the 'the very cup of trembling,' the Grail, the goal of the quest and the emblem of initiation [into manhood]" (357). While the role of music in Sonny's life is perpetual to letting anyone understand him as he suppresses his emotions and only expels them through his jazz music, as in the most literal context, Sonny's blues music is Sonny's blues [emotion].
Sonny's blues is a story of not only the trials of brotherly love, the effect of music on self expression, to shift personal views based through maturity, but also rising above one's own issues to creation your own future. The narrator of the story and his brother Sonny have many different experiences and opinions and causes them to have many years apart both physically and emotionally, does not matter due to the narrator's love and promise made to his mother. The one idea that brought them back together at the heart is music in which allowed Sonny to truly be able to free himself from his emotional crisis and in his only way possible let Sonny's brother hear and see Sonny's through his jazz music which is created as the byproduct of his life experiences. Finally the narrator understands Sonny, for him to understand, to truly listen to him, and to support him with all of his decisions.