What is the relationship between the chronology and the plot of "Sonny's Blues"?

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Instead of organizing his recollections in chronological order, the narrator in "Sonny's Blues " focuses on the ways his relationship with his brother has evolved with time—and not always positively. In fact, the relationship has often been strained, and as the story progresses, he tries to trace the ways...

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Instead of organizing his recollections in chronological order, the narrator in "Sonny's Blues" focuses on the ways his relationship with his brother has evolved with time—and not always positively. In fact, the relationship has often been strained, and as the story progresses, he tries to trace the ways he has failed his brother over time in order to make progress in their relationship in the present.

The story opens with the narrator talking to a past acquaintance about his brother's recent arrest. He mistakenly thinks that his brother wants to die, but the acquaintance tells him, "Don't nobody want to die. Never." Regardless, the narrator doesn't reach out to his troubled brother for many months.

The story is then told through a series of flashbacks which always return to a more recent present. The narrator indicates the ways he has abandoned Sonny and never really understood him, always trying to force his brother into a mold that never fit him. In his youth, following the death of both parents, Sonny longed to become a musician. His brother shut down the idea, and that became the beginning of Sonny's escape into drugs.

In the present, the narrator tries to build a better relationship with his younger brother. Both the past and the present come together in the final scene, when the narrator really sees the talent and passion his brother possesses—the same talent he himself has denied for most of their lives. In this world, Sonny shines and captivates an audience, stirring something in their souls that transcends the music itself. It becomes evident that music might be able to heal this relationship.

A nontraditional chronology is effective in this story because readers are first presented with this younger brother and likely make assumptions about his character, much as the narrator has always done. But piece by piece, the narrator provides information about the brothers' history that builds an empathy for Sonny and simultaneously builds their relationship in the present. This chronology keeps the focus of the story on the evolution of their relationship.

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I think it is important to realise when reading this story that the ordering of events, including various flashbacks, is not strictly chronological. Rather, the author has carefully chosen a series of events that shows the movement of the relationship of the two brothers from one of opposition and anger, at least on the part of the narrator, and then understanding and love. The events of the story, therefore, are carefully selected and ordered to show this gradual movement towards understanding. Note the way in which the story begins at perhaps one of the worst points in their relationship: when the narrator discovers that Sonny has been arrested for drug dealing. However, the death of the daughter of the narrator makes him think of his brother again, and whether the gap between them can be bridged. As the narrative develops, and switches between the present chronological narrative and flashbacks to their childhood, moving ever closer towards the end of this excellent story, which is when the narrator hears Sonny's music for himself, and experiences for himself how Sonny uses it to process and deal with his pain:

I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, and what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.

The acceptance of Sonny and his music is symbolised when the narrator buys drinks for Sonny and his band. The story is now complete as it has arrived at the destination it has been heading towards since the beginning: acceptance and love.

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