How are the brothers different in "Sonny's Blues"?

The brothers are different in that the narrator is the older, practical, responsible, reasonable brother while Sonny is younger dreamer who tends to be unstable and irresponsible and who gets into trouble.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," the narrator is the practical, reason-driven older brother, while Sonny is the younger dreamer and artist who tends to be a little (and sometimes more than a little) unsteady.

The narrator is a responsible person. He went into the military after finishing...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues," the narrator is the practical, reason-driven older brother, while Sonny is the younger dreamer and artist who tends to be a little (and sometimes more than a little) unsteady.

The narrator is a responsible person. He went into the military after finishing high school and then earned his college degree and became a teacher. He now spends his days teaching algebra, and we can see that his mind works along the absolutes of mathematics. He has a practical mind, logical and rational. He is also a family man, and he strives to do his best to take care of the people he loves.

This is why the narrator is so bothered by what has happened to his brother, Sonny. Even though the narrator promised his mother that he would watch out for his brother, he could not keep that promise no matter how hard he tried or what he did. This bothers his sense of responsibility, and it makes him rather angry, too.

Part of the problem is that Sonny has a much different personality than that of his brother. He is creative, artistic, and a little flighty. He decides one day that he wants to be a musician, and he throws himself into that goal completely. Yet he ignores everything else. He stops going to school. He fails to live up to his responsibilities. He seems to be able to commit himself to only one thing at a time.

Sonny is also easily influenced by other people, especially by the musical crowd into which he wants to fit. He resents his brother's guidance because he wants to follow his own path, but he doesn't realize the risks of that path. Sonny's instability led him into drugs, and he gets caught up into that life and goes out of control. His poor choices land him in prison. At the end of the story, though, Sonny seems to find himself again through his music and to put that music back at the center of his life where it belongs.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on