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- The narrator/brother and Sonny are sides of one another. That is, the brother has repressed his pain throughout his life, but when his daughter Gracie dies of polio, Sonny's "trouble became mine." he says. Sonny's side is the emotional side, one that expresses itself.
- Music is mixed with biblical allusions. The housing projects are described as "rocks in the middle of a boiling sea," a phrase reminiscent of the Book of Revelations. Then, at the end of the story, Baldwin refers to the Book of Isaiah as he writes of the "cup of trembling." However, music substitutes for a sermon. In her essay, "James Baldwin: 'Sonny's Blues': A Message in Music," Suzie Bernstein Goldman writes of how the narrator finally hears his brother Sonny's troubles in music. Goldman contends that the story is broken into movements. The first movement is the narrator's recognition of what Sonny's problem is, a recognition he comes to by listening to the friend of Sonny, as well as his listening to the boys in his classes. In the next movement, the narrator writes to Sonny and when Sonny writes back, the narrator again "listens" to the words of Sonny, but he is not ready to fully communicate.
- Goldman contends that the word "safe" is what takes the reader to the third movement. Here the narrator has flashbacks of the father and the generation of Harlem with the other and he perceives the parallels. But, the brother does not understand Sonny and they cut off all contact.
- Then, in the fourth movement, there is a flashback and development of the first.The brother/narrator begins to sympathize now after his daughter Gracie has died.
- The final movement involves Sonny 's playing and his brother's resolution as he finally listens to Sonny's blues. He reognizes the profound deepness of Sonny and he listens. The sense of brotherhood arises.
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