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Sibling Influence in The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich and Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

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The family unit has always been an integral part of every person’s development. Naturally, the parental figure plays an overwhelming influence in the maturity of the child, but sibling interaction can be just as great. Often sibling rivalry, or alliance, outlines this connection as a person carves a path into social peer groups. This articulation of sibling influence can be understood by examining the short stories “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich and “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, both accounts of brotherly experience shown through separation and drug abuse.

Both “The Red Convertible” and “Sonny’s Blues” revolve around brotherly connection. In “The Red Convertible,” the main speaker Lyman uses his red convertible, one he shares with his brother, as an analogy to their relationship. While reminiscing about his brother Henry, Lyman notes that they “went places in that car”, and though some people spend most of their trip remembering specific details, he and Henry just lived their lives (Erdrich 168). In other words, their time spent in the red convertible is intended more for the worthwhile company of one another as opposed to making meaningless trips simply for around-the-table story time.

Like Lyman in “The Red Convertible,” the speaker in “Sonny’s Blues” also shares a connection with his brother, although not as intense. The speaker and his brother Sonny maintain a forced relationship, one in which the speaker’s duty is caring for his little brother. A meaningful relationship does not develop between them until their mother dies, and again, the only element bonding the link between them is sibling obligation. The speaker recognizes his relation to his little brother and “wonder[s] if [the seven years’ difference in their ages] would ever operate between [them] as a bridge” (Baldwin 499). Though no profound appreciation for his little brother exists (like the brothers in the first story), the speaker upholds his position in his family’s lineage and cares for Sonny unconditionally.

Though Lyman and the speaker in the second story both withhold an intense bond to their brothers, the excess baggage that aids in the degeneration of their brothers is unexpected. In each story, separation due to war serves as a disintegrating fact...

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...Just as Sonny uses drugs to distort his reality, Lyman’s view is warped by drug use, also. Lyman hangs a picture of himself and his brother on the wall while he is “a little drunk and stoned” (Erdrich 172). With Henry’s transformation stuck to his conscious, the drugs cause Lyman to hallucinate. The photograph torments him, and he stills sees it, “as if it tugs at [him]” (Erdrich 172). Regretfully, his once uplifting picture becomes a taunting recollection.

Unfortunately, in each story, the brothers do not so much come across the encouraging “brotherly love” that is so often assumed to exist. Because of the hardships of separation, each set of brothers understands the finality of their relationships after drugs are incorporated into the equation. Sadly, the transformations experienced because of the drugs poison their chances of reconciliation and forces them to stand alone. Their newfound individuality presents a harsh realism: there will be no “brother” by his side.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “Sonny’s Blues.” Responding to Literature 3 (1999): 494-518.

Erdrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible.” Responding to Literature 3 (1999): 167-174.
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