Summary and Analysis of Sonny's Blues


The story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin focuses on the first person narrator who is an unnamed algebra teacher who goes ahead to give a story of his relationship with his younger brother Sonny after reading something disturbing as he is riding the subway to school. Saddened by the brother’s choice on drugs that eventually got him busted on drug crackdown, the narrator recalls on the childhood memories while wondering on his brother’s fate and what may have forced him to become an addict and even sell drugs (Baldwin 18). The memories of his younger brother reminds him of his students who are challenged with restricted potentials in a highly hostile world. The narrator goes ahead to speculate that many of his students may already be experimenting with the drugs like heroin for solace. While the narrator seem to have escaped the poverty in the ghetto by creating a sufficient income from teaching, he discovers that most adolescents especially blacks are destroying their lives because of the limits imposed on them by a racist society limiting their abilities.

The story continues with a crisis amongst the youths where the narrator shares the story of Sonny’s friend who always asks for money. After sharing some insight information about Sonny’s fate and how he could have committed suicide long ago, the narrator feel guilty and trues to reverse the conversation. The narrator further cuts communication by not writing to or visiting Sonny until the death of his daughter when he is pushed to pen a letter to prison. In response, Sonny highlights how badly he needed to here from his big brother but goes ahead to express his anguish and even admits that he was glad that the parents are all dead as it was shameful for them to witness his pathetic condition (Baldwin 22). The communication continues between the two brothers until Sonny is released from prison and they meet in New York city a place where the narrator resides. It is at this point that the two brothers get lost in the contemplation of parts of their lives that they have left behind.

Towards the middle of the story the narrator mostly flashbacks about the Sonny’s childhood where he notes that his father was a loving man despite him having alcohol problems. he further notes that Sonny and his father never had a good relationship since they were all alike as they both led a private lifestyle. He further recalls his mother in a funeral speaking to him about Sonny and requesting him to be his small brother’s keeper (Baldwin 28). The essence of narrating the story about his uncle who was crushed to death by a group of drunken white men was to evoke the theme that in the world there is no safety from suffering. Contrary to the majority’s expectations, the narrator had forgotten his promise to look after Sonny until his mother’s death. It is clear to note that pain and suffering in the world is simply a manifestation of the society’s chaos out of which individuals struggle to survive and create a life that is guided by order and meaning. Even though from the narration it is clear that suffering cannot be avoided, it can only be thwarted by struggling and striving through it and one can only support an individual through their struggles.


From the conversations the narrator brings forth Sonny’s love for music, his marriage and willingness to return to army. The arrangement that Sonny lives with the narrator’s wife’s family as the narrator are at war fails as he insist that Sonny must live with his the n fiancée Isabel. After joining the military and the war ended, it also marked the final break of the two brothers as the narrator could not cope with Sonny’s way of life. According to Baldwin, it is at this point that the narrator realizes that family is important and even better is have someone to talk to in times of suffering as is a source of comfort (36). Eventually, the narrator and Sonny come to an understanding which seems to reconcile them however the narrator is still concerned that Sonny might find his way back to using drugs. Ultimately, in the end the narrator notes that Sonny’s music is a genuine response to life and he finally accepts Sonny with the life path he had chosen.

Sonny’s Blues is a tale for the revival of culture and the struggles to escape from the traps of racial discrimination, inequalities and drug abuse. The narrator focuses on the young lives that end up being trapped in social injustices and inequalities limiting their abilities to maximize on their potentials. Important to note, are the angry figures that are always presented in the story who feels aggrieved of the situation and because of the pressure from the neighborhood and the determination to escape poverty. The author effectively used Sonny’s music career to build the brotherly love without necessary ripping the brotherhood apart. The narrator emphasizes on moving back and forth in time to bring the whole story to climax from simply lengthy imprisonment to redefining Sonny’s life purpose.

Indeed, given the narrators critique and ridicule on the smaller brother Sonny, it is clear that he is selfish and only wants to portray himself as a respectable character who only leads a perfect safe life. Because of distancing himself from the reality, the narrator loses touch with the contemporary African American culture which is his own pride of heritage. As Baldwin notes “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated are personal, private, vanishing evocations” (45). Despite the exciting narration of the story, it is clear that even in the moment of redemption, troubles and suffering of life still stretched above Sonny’s career and line in general. By sending a drink to Sonny, the narrator reminds him that even his past struggles might still come to the future. Paramount, the story focuses on the importance of endurance, forgiveness and embracing heritage in the mission to strive and escape the traps of life and suffering.