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Much like their uncle and father in relationship, the narrator and his brother Sonny of "Sonny's Blues" grew up in the "killing streets" of Harlem, yet respond to their environment in different ways, just as did their uncle and father. The narrator becomes an algebra teacher in an attempt to integrate himself into his environment, and Sonny leaves to become a musician; however he does not attain respectibility like his brother. Instead, he becomes addicted to heroin to control his feelings. The narrator controls his feelings in another way; he internalizes them, preventing them from surfacing as his father did after his brother died. Later, when the narrator's daughter Gracie dies, he does not speak of her much. And, like the situation with the uncle and father, Sonny's brother promises to care for him.
Yet, Sonny, too, moves "back, inside himself," to a "place where he cannot be reached. As the narrator rides with Sonny through the streets of Halem, he remembers,
These streets hadn't changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea....Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn't lived in Harlem for yours. Yet, ...we both were seeking though our separate cab windows...that part of ourselves which had been left behind. It's always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.
It is this part of themselves left behind that they seek as they go to Greenwich Village where Sonny will play the blues, reconciling when they both find it. At the nightclub, it is Creole who shows them both the way, shows him that Sonny is in his "kingdom" at the nightclub. The narrator, sitting in a dark corner perceives Sonny as "bearing royal blood." For the narrator, the room seems to change. As the music plays the narrator says,
But the man who creates the music is hearing soemthing else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hit the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order more terrible because it ahs no words, and triumphant, too....And his triumph , when he triumphs, is ours.
The narrator listens to Sonny play, understanding the reminder of Creole of what the blues are about.
"The tale," of the blues, how we live, and how we are delighted, how we suffer...and how we triumph...must be heard....it's the only light we've got in all this darkness."
The narrator's epiphany then comes,
Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.
In their sharing of the blues, there is meaning. For, the narrator realizes that music is the medium for Sonny's expression of suffering, that "missing member [that] aches" for which they both search: Music is the "only light" in the darkness, the cause of their reconciliation.
In "Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin, the narrator has always been more grounded. He has worked hard, has a steady job, and has never understood his brother who is the complete opposite.
Sonny's passion is music. He doesn't seem to apply himself to anything significant in his life, and eventually becomes a serious drug user. Although the author has tried to take care of Sonny, as he promised his mother before she died, and because he has been in the armed services, the narrator has seen a much different side of life than his brother. In working so hard, the narrator has had little patience for Sonny's life choices.
At the end of the story, however, Sonny invites his brother to hear him play. In his element of music, the narrator sees Sonny in a new light. He sees him struggle with the first song he plays, symbolic perhaps of the struggle Sonny has been going through almost his entire life. With the playing of the second song, Sonny shows a mastery and musical genius that his brother had never noticed before.
In talking with Sonny, I believe the narrator becomes less resentful of his brother for not being more like him. When he hears Sonny play, however, I believe he starts to appreciate the different man Sonny is, even though Sonny seems to be dysfunctional in every other corner of his life: the music changes everything between the brothers.
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