One conflict in the story that troubles the unnamed narrator, who is Sonny's brother, is how Sonny wound up arrested for selling and using heroin. The narrator recalls Sonny as a promising and bright youth, and he tries to understand how Sonny went wrong since that time. The narrator, who is 7 years older than Sonny, has struggled to maintain a connection to his brother even as his own life presented sorrows and struggles, such as the death of his young daughter.
In addition, the narrator contends with painful memories of his parents, which complicate his feelings towards Sonny and make him feel guilty. Both of their parents have died, and the narrator knows that his father had hoped for something greater for Sonny. The narrator finds out that his father's brother died after being run over by white men in a car, and it's clear that the father's brother was in many ways similar to Sonny. The narrator can't understand exactly how to help Sonny, but, in the end, he realizes that music is helpful to Sonny in expressing his inner pain.