In "Sonny's Blues," what does Sonny's green notebook symbolize?

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Sonny's notebook with the green cover may symbolize the narrator's memories of Sonny as a young schoolboy and the rebirth and renewal of Sonny's situation and his relationship with the narrator.

It's important to consider the context of this imagery. The narrator has just considered searching his younger brother Sonny's room for evidence that he might be using drugs again. As he ponders this dilemma, he looks through his living room window to a spontaneous revival of sorts that is happening on the street. As the group begins to sing, the narrator notes that the music seems to "soothe a poison out of" those who have gathered to listen. Sonny stands in their midst; he is "very still" and "faintly smiling." At the same time, the narrator notices that Sonny carries a "wide, flat notebook with a green cover."

The image of Sonny holding this notebook reminds the narrator of a "schoolboy." This is significant because the narrator himself is a teacher. Remember the way the narrator compares his students to his memories of Sonny at the same age:

When he was about as old as the boys in my classes his face had been bright and open, there was a lot of copper in it; and he'd had wonderfully direct brown eyes, and great gentleness and privacy.

Since those days of "brightness" and "gentleness," Sonny has endured a great deal of pain. His dreams to become a musician have been ridiculed by his brother. After losing his parents, he is fairly displaced when his brother enlists in the military. His addictions have led to self-destructive behaviors, and he has been imprisoned. It has become easy for the narrator to condemn his younger brother's lifestyle and choices.

Yet in this moment as Sonny holds the green notebook, the narrator looks at his younger brother with a renewed sense of hope; it is helpful to recall that green is often symbolic of rebirth or renewal. The notebook with the green cover thus symbolizes a rebirth in this relationship between brothers.

The narrator recalls the way his young brother's face once reflected hope for the future, and this scene on the street generates a reverence for the music that stirs Sonny's soul. The narrator is beginning to understand that music is a form of salvation for his brother, who clings to a green notebook that likely holds artistic inspiration. The notebook reminds the narrator of the promising young boy Sonny once was, and he begins to realize that it is possible for music to revive a lost part of Sonny's soul.

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