To a great extent the narrator explains Sonny’s life’s problems through the lens of family and community relationships. Interestingly, we know little about the parents, but we do know the father’s brother was killed by a group of white men, and we know too that he trivialized the mother’s request to move to another neighborhood where drugs and violence were not problems. “Safe, hell!” he said. “There’s no place safe for kids, nor nobody.” Violence was central to their lives. The father drank too much, and he died when the kids were young. He didn’t get along with Sonny, which is important to Sonny’s development. In short, he was a poor role model, and much responsibility in taking care of Sonny went to the narrator: the mother tells him to care for his brother right before she dies. The tableau that remains in the narrator’s mind about his parents involves first a “silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces,” which frightens him. The narrator continues: “Something deep and watchful in the child knows that this is bound to end, is already ending….And when light fills the room, the child is filled with darkness.” The darkness represents the racism that exists outside the safety of the house, and it was this from which the family—mother, father, brother—could not protect Sonny.
These names affect our senses because they make the story seem more personal to us. We are able to feel more as if we are in their shoes when the characters are not named and instead just referred to with familiar labels such as Mama and Daddy.