How does the narator of "Sonny’s Blue's" change and what brings about his change?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After the narrator of "Sonny's Blues" loses his daughter to the effects of polio, his loss causes him to feel that he can better understand Sonny's troubles. Later, he gains a greater understanding of Sonny when he comes to live with the narrator, and he perceives how the sensitive and musical Sonny suffers in life.

Before the older brother/narrator left for war, he made arrangements for Sonny to live with his wife Isabel and her family. However, Sonny was an unrecognizable presence to this family.

Isabel finally confessed that it wasn't like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound. And the sound didn't make any sense to her . . . to any of them—naturally. . . . He moved in an atmosphere which wasn't like theirs at all. . . . it was as though he were wrapped up in . . . some vision all his own; and there wasn't any way to reach him.

Because Sonny was "loose and dreamlike all the time," he and his brother fought every time they saw each other. Finally, Sonny told his brother not to worry about him anymore. In the spring, though, the brother read about "Sonny's trouble." After he lost his little girl who suffered from polio, his trouble made Sonny's more real to him because he then understood suffering. The brother's realization occurs shortly before the time he picks up Sonny and brings him to his home.

One Saturday afternoon after Sonny has been living with the brother for nearly two weeks, the brother tries to find the courage to search Sonny's room. Instead, he looks out his window and sees Sonny standing and listening to street singers. After Sonny drops some coins in the outstretched tambourine, he starts across the avenue, with his slow, loping walk with its own half-beat. When Sonny enters, the brother and he talk about the street revival. At this time, Sonny invites his brother to come hear him play in a "joint in the Village."

As the two brothers watch the revival "break up" across the street, Sonny remarks upon how much the woman must have suffered in order to be able to sing as she has. It is then that the narrator realizes that he was quiet and withheld communication which might have helped Sonny when he was suffering. He agrees to go to the club with Sonny that night. It is at the club, when the brother listens to Sonny play, that he comes to understand how the blues communicate a musician's suffering, bringing a righteous anger that opens the world of suffering. The lead musician, named Creole, begins by reminding the group of "the tale of how we suffer," and Sonny, in turn, reminds his brother of their suffering. Meaning is thus found in this sharing through the medium of the blues. Music becomes the solace for their suffering souls.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The way the story starts and the narrator's clear feelings of shame and anger at his brother's involvement in drugs and jazz music present us with a massive conflict that clearly shows no sign of being resolved. The narrator himself wonders whether the seven years that separate himself and his younger brother can ever be bridged. However, the key moment of transition comes when the narrator learns from his mother that his father had a brother who died as a result of a drink-driving related incident perpetrated by white men. The mother tells the narrator this story to try and make him see how important brothers are to each other in supporting and helping each other through life, especially as Sonny is struggling. This causes the narrator to feel guilt as he reflects that he has not been there for his younger brother in his difficulties. He also however recalls with anger his disappointment that Sonny chose to follow jazz music over classical music, a choice that was "beneath him" from the narrator's perspective. It is clear that the two brothers follow very different lives.

The next key transitional moment comes when both the narrator and Sonny witness a revival scene. The brothers talk and it is clear that the narrator is genuinely trying to understand his younger brother and his perspective. When Sonny shares with his brother how the revival meeting made him think of how heroin gave him the feeling of being in control, the narrator discerns that Sonny is really referring to a much greater issue: the way that, for Sonny, heroin was a preventitive measure to keep Sonny from "drowing in" the sorrows of humanity. He continues to expand on this, saying that for us to learn from suffering we have to be able to "own" it. For Sonny, the two things that helps him "own" this suffering is jazz music and heroin.

The change in the narrator is finally confirmed at the end of the story, when he agrees to accompany his brother to a jazz club and hear him play. As he hears Sonny take the lead in a jazz song, he finally realises how music can be a vehicle can help people to express and learn who they are and how it can keep them from drowing in the sorrows of humanity, as Sonny has obviously discovered. He has finally experienced and understood his younger brother's perspective.

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Sonny's Blues

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