Who is the antagonist in "Sonny's Blues"?

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There is not a human antagonist in “Sonny’s Blues.” Although the narrator and his brother, Sonny, frequently clash, the main external conflicts in the story are not person versus person but person versus society. The story also emphasizes internal conflicts more than external ones. Both the narrator and Sonny experience significant interior struggles.

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Because James Baldwin’s story “Sonny’s Blues” is not primarily about conflict between people, one cannot identify a human antagonist. The first-person narrator, who is the protagonist, tends to see the world quite differently than his brother, Sonny, does. The narrator more often expresses concern over Sonny’s path in life—which has included substance abuse, illegal drug sales, and incarceration—than an adversarial relationship with him.

In the narrator’s presentation of their family background as well as more recent life events, the reader can see numerous external conflicts. Some of these are between people, but more frequently the external conflict is between an individual and society—including racist inequality. Not only does Sonny suffer as an alienated and marginalized person, but the narrator also shows his conflicts with society. As both men struggle to find their place in the world, both experience significant internal conflict. In that regard, one might say that for each man, the antagonist is himself.

The external conflicts with society go back to the boys’ early life, especially their experiences with their disillusioned father. The racist aspects of American society are shown in the attack that killed their father’s brother, from which he never fully recovered. For Sonny, the challenge of pursuing his music in a society that undervalues artists has contributed to the inner conflicts that he tries to escape through heroin use. The narrator, who adopted a more conventional path in becoming a teacher, struggles with grief over his daughter’s death; this process finally awakens the compassion for his brother that had long eluded him.

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Who is the antagonist in "Sonny's Blues"?

"Sonny's Blues" is a short story written by American writer James Baldwin, originally published in 1957. It tells the story of a Black teacher from Harlem and his brother Sonny, who's a recovering drug addict and an ex-prisoner. The teacher, who is also the narrator of the story, often fights with his brother, and that's mostly because he cares for Sonny. However, Sonny is not the antagonist of the story. It can actually be argued that society is the real villain or the real antagonist of the narrative.

The main causes of all problems in Harlem and society in general are discrimination and prejudice, especially racism, as well as poverty. Because of hatred and judgment and unsatisfactory socioeconomic conditions, many African Americans suffer. Often, those suffering turn to drugs and crime, because everything seems hopeless and miserable. Sonny exemplifies this fact, as he tries to find an escape from reality in drugs. The narrator is concerned not only about his brother, but also about his students, because he sees how cruel society can be and how it's capable of turning even the most innocent souls into desperate, miserable individuals and even ruthless monsters.

Sonny finds salvation and solace in music, but not everyone is that lucky. Many continue to struggle in the rough sociopolitical environment, trying to define themselves and hoping to be accepted as they are. Thus, "Sonny's Blues" may not have a traditional antagonist, but it reminds the readers that sometimes, the most evil of villains isn't necessarily a person, but society as a whole.

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