What views of life and its meaning are in conflict in the story "Sonny's Blues"?

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mattbuckley | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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In James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" the two main characters are set up as fantastic character foils. The are brothers but very different in the way they view life and the world. The narrator, Sonny's brother, is very conservative. He does not take many chances in life. He has taken a steady respectable job as a teacher and has a family. He has tried to take care of Sonny as much as he can, as he feels an older brother should; however he has forgotten to support Sonny in what Sonny wants to do. He tries to get Sonny to act responsible and to be safe in life like he has.

Sonny is a free spirit, restless and dreaming, he seems to have wandered through life in search of something he is not sure of. He has battled addiction and isolation. He is the younger brother and desperately wants the narrators approval. Sonny has dreams of being a musician and his brother thinks this ridiculous. When Sonny tells his brother of this dream, the narrator responds saying, "you know people can't always do exactly what they want to do -". Sonny then replies, "No, I don't know that . . . I think people aught to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?" This quote shows the difference in the way each character views life.

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