What is the conflict in James Baldwin's story "Sonny's Blues" that troubles a major character?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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There are two major characters in "Sonny's Blues," Sonny and Sonny's older brother. Each of these characters has an independent conflict and together they share another conflict. Sonny's conflict has multiple parts: heroin addiction; the "vivid, killing streets;" his choice for jazz and blues music over classical, which translates to a choice for poverty and limits to opportunity and freedom and a rejection of an established place in society with at least some economic opportunity, such as his brother attained.   

His brother's conflict is what to do to help Sonny. He feels estranged by the seven year age difference that separates him from Sonny. He feels like Sonny's choice of jazz and blues was a mistake and "beneath" him. He feels he failed his mother because she required a promise that as the older brother he would always take care of Sonny...trouble is, he has never known how to help Sonny.

Their shared conflict is how to extricate themselves from the suffering of their racially impeded lives. Sonny has fallen deeper and deeper into suffering. His brother has extricated himself from the suffering in large part--though not entirely--and each still wears the shackles of the suffering from their childhood and youth.

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