In "Sonny's Blues" how does the order in which events are related later in the story affect your experience of reading it and interpreting its meaning?

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James Baldwin wrote his short story "Sonny's Blues " in a staggered series of flashbacks that jump back and forth in time. The story begins as the narrator finds out that his brother, Sonny, has been arrested for drug possession, and then it takes us through the brothers’ childhood...

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James Baldwin wrote his short story "Sonny's Blues" in a staggered series of flashbacks that jump back and forth in time. The story begins as the narrator finds out that his brother, Sonny, has been arrested for drug possession, and then it takes us through the brothers’ childhood and youth, in between scenes that recount the present day, in which Sonny has come back to Harlem. The order that Baldwin writes various events is crucial, because it affects the reader’s sympathies. At the start of the story, the narrator seems unduly annoyed with his brother, as if Sonny’s troubles are merely a bother. As the story progresses and we learn of the boys' upbringing and struggles, we begin to feel for the narrator, who has always wished to do right by his younger brother, even if he does not understand all of Sonny’s decisions. And, just as the reader might get frustrated with Sonny for bringing so much chaos and hardship into his brother’s life, we learn more about his suffering and how hard Sonny tried to escape his drug abuse by escaping his life in Harlem. The story ends with the narrator watching his brother on stage, immersed in the music that is his salvation; by this point in the story, Baldwin has built quite a store of sympathy and understanding for both characters, and this makes the ending cathartic and even triumphant.

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At the beginning of the story, Sonny's brother finds out that Sonny has been arrested for drug dealing and using. The narrator (Sonny's brother) wonders why his brother has come to this end, and he begins to go back into his memory to find clues about his brother.

The structure of the story forces the reader to go back in time with the narrator to solve the mystery of how Sonny wound up in the place he did. Through the narrator's flashbacks, the reader begins to understand Sonny a bit better. The narrator dismisses the importance of music in Sonny's life until he remembers having seen Sonny play the blues. He realizes that Sonny is in his element while playing music and that the blues are his way of keeping madness and ruination at bay, as Sonny's life is difficult. By going back in time with the narrator, the reader begins to experience Sonny's complexity when Sonny plays the blues.

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Baldwin intends for the reader to experience Sonny's troubles, the narrator's struggles to understand his brother, and the moment in which the two brothers come together.  The attached link on writing style suggests that the end of the story provides a catharsis in which Sonny is relieved from the pressure of his life by playing his music.  The narrator has decided to go see Sonny play, so he is there to witness this release.  We, the reading audience, are also "there" watching the event unfold, and therefore, we are part of Sonny's catharsis.  The story moves around in time, and sometimes readers might feel lost in the time shifts.  This is symbolic of the trouble that has plagued Sonny's life and of the difficulty that the narrator has had trying to understand the choices that his brother has made in life.  But these events come together in the end when the narrator understands how music has shaped--and saved--his brother's life.

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