Explain the symbolism of Sonny's characterization in the story "Sonny's Blues".

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this story, the author is seeking to portray "the two sides of the African-American experience".  The characterization of Sonny represents the black man who has never tried to assimilate into the mainstream of American society and who thus remains a permanent outsider.  His character is presented as a contrast with that of the narrator, who has devoted his efforts to assimilate as much as possible.  Despite their opposite approaches to life, both characters suffer deeply as members of an oppressed race.  The narrator, despite his attempts to fit in, must constantly face the obstacles of "institutional racism and the limits placed upon his opportunity", while Sonny remains alienated and apart in both a physical and psychological sense. 

In the first part of the story, Sonny, as the outsider, is viewed stereotypically, as a heroin-addicted jazz musician.  As the story progresses, however, the reader begins to see beyond this one-dimensional view of the character.  Sonny is a sensitive man who suffers deeply as a member of an unaccepted and downtrodden minority.  He channels his suffering into his music, expecially "bebop jazz and the blues, forms developed by African-American musicians", and through his sound finds a means of taking control of his life and expressing his deepest feelings.