Sonny's Blues Questions and Answers
by James Baldwin

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What made Sonny use heroin in "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin?

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The narrator, Sonny's brother, asks him why he uses heroin. It is hard for this older brother, the upstanding sibling who has made a life for himself as a public school teacher, to understand why Sonny uses such a destructive drug.

At first Sonny says it is to feel confident and in control. As his brother probes, however, asking if heroin is what he needs to be successful at his music, Sonny says he is not sure that it is. What he is sure of is that he uses heroin:

"... to stand it, to be able to make it at all. On any level." He frowned and smiled: "In order to keep from shaking to pieces."

As his brother continues to try to understand, Sonny admits that plenty of people he has known have, in fact, shaken to pieces from heroin use. He confides that it is "repulsive" to him how much people have to suffer—even if it makes their art deepen. The narrator then asks Sonny if there is, realistically speaking, any way to avoid suffering. Sonny responds by saying:

"I believe not," he said and...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 951 words.)

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