Is Sonny a sympathetic character in "Sonny's Blues"? Why or why not?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sonny is a sympathetic character, because his negative behavior can be explained by the pain and isolation he feels.

Sonny has many bad traits. He's often been the bane of his more stable, steady brother. However, these traits don't make Sonny unsympathetic. Instead, they show the results of his life experience.

When Sonny was young, his parents died. He was left alone with his brother. Though his brother tried, it was difficult for him to parent the younger boy. This led to Sonny spending more time with friends and falling into bad behaviors. He eased his pain over the loss of his parents, the lack of opportunity, and his general isolation with drugs. However, he also uses these pains and problems to fuel his music. The reader understands that Sonny isn't a bad person—he's a complete person with pain, desires, and a family who loves him.

Another reason that Sonny is sympathetic is that his brother remembers him, as a young boy, with affection. He remembers Sonny's eyes and saw them as direct, offering gentleness and privacy. This image of Sonny as a young man at the beginning of the story makes the reader more sympathetic to him, even when they read about his heroin bust.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sonny's Blues," the narrator's brother Sonny is a sympathetic character.  At the beginning of the story, the narrator learns that Sonny has yet again been arrested for being involved with heroin, and the narrator just cannot understand why his brother cannot work himself out of a life of drug abuse.  As the story unfolds, the reader learns about the harsh past that Sonny and the narrator have had, including the abuse and death faced by their uncle.  Sonny's way of escape is drugs, which the narrator does not understand.  Sonny wants his brother to understand that not everyone handles problems in the same way, and Sonny feels most alive when he is able to play the piano and make music.  It is not until the end of the story that the narrator understands through the music the pain that Sonny has been dealing with too.  The narrator eventually feels sympathy for his brother, and depending on the reader, Sonny has become a sympathetic character long before the end of the story as his character has been juxtaposed against the cold nature of the narrator.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial