How would story change if it were told by Sonny?

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Sonny's reasoning for his choices remains a mystery for much of the short story. In the beginning of the narrative, his brother, who teaches algebra, tells us about the struggle he sees in the boys he teaches who are much like Sonny was at that age:

These boys ... were...

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Sonny's reasoning for his choices remains a mystery for much of the short story. In the beginning of the narrative, his brother, who teaches algebra, tells us about the struggle he sees in the boys he teaches who are much like Sonny was at that age:

These boys ... were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies ...

Sonny is also engulfed in darkness from his youth. He loses both of his parents and is sent to live with his brother's wife's family, where he isn't exactly welcome company. Sonny is an outsider, and his music is never appreciated. If he narrated the story, his thoughts on being tossed around and pushed to the side as an afterthought would be more clear. Does he feel lost? Angry? Forgotten?

Sonny's perspective would also allow the reader more clarity in how he feels about his older brother, who has ignored and ended each of Sonny's dreams. He wanted to go to India. He wanted to study music. He wanted to join the army. And his brother completely shut down each of these dreams. Sonny desperately wanted to get out of Harlem because he saw the drug-filled future he was headed for. He couldn't verbalize this effectively to his older brother, so Sonny's voice would make this line of reasoning more clear—and likely lay some of the blame for his poor choices on the brother who was supposed to look out for him but who was often on a different continent instead.

It would also be incredible to hear Sonny's feelings in that final scene, when he owns the stage and performs for his brother as he's always dreamed of doing. Does he feel vindicated? Does he play for his brother or in spite of him? What future does he now foresee unfolding before him?

Sonny's perspective in this story would provide answers for many of the inner struggles which readers know he faces but which are not explicated in the story as it is told from his brother's perspective.

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Point of view is all-important to how we tell a story. Our perceptions of characters and events are deeply influenced by who is telling the tale. We all also tend to be the heroes of own story and to show ourselves in a positive light.

Fortunately, Baldwin gives us many clues as to how Sonny feels and thinks, from the letter he writes as he is recovering from heroin addiction to his dialogue in the story.

If Sonny were telling the story, music would be more central earlier on. Music would be his escape from hardship—and more than that, his joy. Sonny would not be a judgmental person, but we would see him as struggling with a remote, often closed-down older brother who can't understand him—the narrator himself says his wife, Isabel, is more open and kind than he is. The brother would seem to have made it to middle-class security in a way Sonny never could.

We could imagine Sonny torn between wishing he could go down the straight and narrow path as his brother did—finishing school, going to college, becoming a teacher, marrying, and starting a family—but reacting to the stronger pull of creating art and getting lost in the music. We would feel more acutely the ache of not being able to stand high school, of being discouraged from going into the army, of feeling lost—except when playing jazz. And he would make us feel alive when the music flows in Greenwich Village and elsewhere.

Through Sonny, we would see more acutely the stifling limitations of his brother's straight-and-narrow life and woven throughout the story, not just at end, the beauty, grace, and allure of jazz.

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As Baldwin wrote it, "Sonny's Blues" is configured as a kind of psychological mystery. The unnamed narrator attempts to understand his younger brother by going back in time and reviewing moments from their youth and their earlier relationship. In the end, the narrator understands a bit more about his brother after seeing him experience transcendence while playing music.

If the story had been told by Sonny, the element of mystery and the process of putting together Sonny as if he were a psychological puzzle would be missing. Instead, Sonny would explain his point of view on his childhood and his reasons for turning to drug use from the beginning of the tale. This change would dramatically change the story, which is really about the narrator's attempt to understand his brother. This change would also convert this story to a more straightforward piece of writing. As it was written by Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues" is tale that includes an element of mystery and that comments on the way it is difficult to really know the people around us.

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Music promises freedom to Sonny from the blues of his life. He has used heroin to give him a short respite from his sufferings, but Sonny realizes heroin will eventually kill him. So if Sonny were telling the story, he would tell it with his music because this is the only way for him to express his feelings in a positive manner. Thus, the short story would be told through jazz, so we would realize just as Sonny's brother did that "he could help us to be free if we would just listen, that he would never be free until we did."

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