Essay Siblings' Relationship in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

Essay Siblings' Relationship in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues

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Siblings' Relationship in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues



Eminent psychologists have made convincing arguments for the effect birth order has on personality. In addition, laymen can cite innumerable examples of domineering, pragmatic, reliable older siblings contrasting with those fitting the "youngest stereotype" -- irresponsible, spoiled, and selfish. Such character traits often cause lifelong conflict between siblings. In his short story "Sonny's Blues," James Baldwin shows a profound example of such sibling friction. Baldwin paints a realistic portrait of an older brother, Richard (the narrator), always steady, predictable, and in control, and Sonny, a musician and recovering heroin addict who looks at the world through a different lens. Throughout his life Richard distances himself from Sonny, both by rejecting his views and attempting to control him. During the story, we see Richard evolve into finally understanding and communicating with Sonny, which requires him truly to listen to both his brother's words and his music. Baldwin's story represents an example for all those experiencing conflict, whether or not they are brothers. By letting go of our yearning to subjugate others and make them fit the molds we think they should, as Richard discovers, we pave the way for harmony and meaningful relationships.

Richard vividly narrates incidents that led to his alienation from Sonny. Through a childhood memory, the author exhibits how Richard's practical nature separates them early on. At fourteen, Sonny imaginatively speaks of traveling to India, an idea his brother scoffs at (416). "I think he sort of looked down on me for that," Richard says. The older brother's rejection of Sonny's music damages th...


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...s to "let out the reins" as Creole does and recognize that his brother can do things by himself and as he chooses. Appropriately, Baldwin selects Sonny's music to show both his brother and the readers that no two people, even siblings, must agree on everything. Sonny's music tells Baldwin's audience what Richard had to learn "the hard way": Some questions have more than one right answer. Sonny and Richard will coexist more peacefully and enjoy a truly fulfilling relationship if Richard continues to let go of his need to change Sonny and accept him for who he is. Through a poignant and intimate family portrait, Baldwin urges us to tread a middle path in our relationships - a path of support at more of a distance than our hearts would often prefer.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." The Oxford Book of American Short Stories 1992: 409 - 439.

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