The age difference between Sonny and his older brother is crucial because the narrator initially has difficulty understanding the aspirations and weaknesses of his sibling. (And the parable of the prodigal son and the biblical refrain of "my brother's keeper" should resonate for many readers of this text.) The narrator is a high school algebra teacher, a home owner, and a family man, whereas Sonny drifts from place to place—at one time living with his brother, at another time staying with a white woman in Greenwich Village. Despite the significant differences between the two men, however, they are quite similar in the desire to escape their shared past. This is made evident in the narrator's thoughts upon those who live like animals in the housing tenements of Harlem. As he looks out his cab window while escorting Sonny back from prison, he muses:
Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped, after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn't lived in Harlem for years. Yet, as the cab moved uptown through streets which seemed, with a rush, to darken with dark people, and as I covertly studied Sonny's face/it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind. It's always at the hour of trouble...
(The entire section is 400 words.)