Mending the Relationship of Two Brothers in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues
According to Liukkonen, James Baldwin is well known for his "novels on sexual and personal identity, and sharp essays on civil-rights struggle in the United States." "Sonny's Blues" is no exception to this. The story takes place in Harlem, New York in the 1950's and tells of the relationship between two brothers. The older brother, who is the narrator and a participant in the novel, remains unnamed throughout the story. The novel is about the struggles, failures and successes of these two African American brothers growing up in the intercity as a minority. The encounters that the narrator and his brother, Sonny, have throughout the story exemplify Baldwin's theme of personal accountability and ethical criticism.
The older brother, the narrator, finds himself struggling at the beginning of the story. While riding the subway, he reads in the paper that Sonny has been arrested for possession of drugs. During his day of teaching, he reflects on prior years with Sonny and their past adventures as young boys. He remembers Sonny's "wonderfully direct brown eyes, and great gentleness and privacy." The narrator sees his brother as a good boy, not "hard or evil or disrespectful." He wonders how many of his algebra students are similar to Sonny in appearance and personality along with his drug habits. This comparison allows the older brother to conclude that Sonny was probably not arrested on his initial use of drugs. It also allows the narrator is see that Sonny may be like most of the other young boys in Harlem.
As the narrator makes his way to the courtyard heading home from school, a "friend" of Sonny's, another drug-user, approaches him. The narrator is bitter towards Sonny's friend and is reluctant to talk to him. The narrator is releasing his anger regarding Sonny unto this other drug user. He doesn't want to hear any "sad story" from the drug user (or Sonny). Yet, the narrator feels guilty for not wanting to listen to the drug user (or Sonny). He begins to think that if his relationship with Sonny had allowed Sonny to talk and be heard than maybe Sonny would not be using heroin. This thought is expanded when the narrator sees the barmaid. The narrator "sees the little girl" in the barmaid, yet senses her struggling in life and views her as a semiwhore.
This bitter conversation with the drug user would also be regeneration for the narrator. The drug user states he feels somewhat responsible in Sonny's arrest. In turn, the narrator faces the fact that he feels somewhat responsible for Sonny's arrest. As a result of his guilt and interest in Sonny, the narrator starts to ask the drug user specific questions regarding Sonny's disposition. The drug user has knowledge of the never-ending cycle of abusing drugs and shares this information with the narrator. In return, the older brother feels a regeneration of care for the drug user, who his is viewing as Sonny. This encoun...