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An Older Brother's Influence in James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues

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In James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” the unspoken brotherly bond between the narrator and his younger brother Sonny is illustrated through the narrator’s point of view. The two brothers have not spoken in years until the narrator receives a letter from Sonny after his daughter dies. He takes this moment as an important sign from Sonny and feels the need to respond. While both Sonny and the narrator live in separate worlds, all Sonny needs is a brother to care for him while the narrator finds himself in the past eventually learning his role as an older brother.

When the narrator and Sonny finally get a chance to speak to each other after many years, they begin to slowly open up to each other the grim reality that they face.

I said: ‘But there’s no way not to suffer--is there Sonny?’ ‘I believe not,’ he said and smiled, ‘ but that’s never stopped anyone from trying.’ He looked at me. ‘Has it?’ I realized, with this mocking look, that there stood between us, forever, beyond the power of time of forgiveness, the fact that I had held silence-- so long!-- when he had needed human speech to help him. (848)

The narrator realizes that it was his responsibility to be there for his younger brother for all the years that Sonny needed him, even if it was just to talk or listen. He doesn’t know if Sonny will be able to forgive him, or if too much time has passed to be any forgiveness. Although the narrator is there for his brother now, he could have been an influence to him for his entire life, just as any brother should be.

The two characters come to the realization that they do share a brotherly bond, and that the narrator cares deeply for his brother even after all the time apart. The narrator says, “I don’t give a damn wh...

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...animal waiting to be coaxed into the light”(835). The narrator describes Sonny as somebody he has never known. All the years apart has turned the two brothers into complete strangers. This moment between the two men is very important to the central theme of the story, which is the importance of a bond between brothers.

Throughout the story, the narrator learns how important it is to Sonny for him to care and listen to him. Sonny is vulnerable and in a state where he is getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol perhaps because he feels as though no one cares enough to help him. The narrator lives his life as a teacher while Sonny spends his days using drugs hoping someday to pursue his dreams of music. Both characters end up in a place they are meant to be; acting as family and leaning on each other for support, which is the true importance of an older brother.
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