Compare and Contrast the 2 Brothers in Sonnys Blues
The story, Sonny’s Blues, describes the lives of two brothers growing up in Harlem in the early 1960’s.Sonny and his brother are different in the way the go about life in general.They were both raised in the same household, yet they grew up to be totally different people.
As the story progresses we see that both brothers have troubles in their lives and we get to see how each thinks and acts when facing such ordeals. While the brothers differ in the way they internalize and cope with their problems, they both show selfish characteristics, but ultimately feel remorseful for not being in each others’ lives.
The narrator though an educator, is not very good at verbalizing his emotions. He tends to be the person who keeps everything inside and lets all his emotions turn to resentment. When he found out his brother had been arrested he still couldn’t verbalize how he felt knowing his brother was a junkie, “I couldn’t believe it: but what I mean by that is that I couldn’t find any room for it anywhere inside me. I had kept it outside me for a long time. I hadn’t wanted to know.
I had had suspicions, but I didn’t name them, I kept putting them away” (Baldwin). For many years, the narrator has been stuffing his emotions down, ultimately resulting in complete disassociation from situations for example his mothers and daughters death Also after finding out that Sonny was arrested, he sees a kid that was friends with Sonny and automatically has anger for him even though realistically he had nothing to do with Sonny’s arrest, “But now, abruptly, I hated him. I couldn’t stand the way he looked at me” (Baldwin).
That narrator is unable to cope and deal with problems as they come, instead he acts like a child, sort of folding his arms and giving the silent treatment or automatically jumping to conclusions to put himself on a pedestal. Sonny runs away from his problems, both mentally and physically. Even though he is facing his problems head on as opposed to the brother who sweeps things under the rug, he does it in a destructive manner. Physically he ran away from Harlem to get away the stereotype of that area. At first he turns to music to fix his problems, and then heroin.
Sonny left school, and joined the navy to get as far away from Harlem as he possibly could. When Sonny returns from prison, he tried explaining to his brother what music does for him, “”It’s not so much to play. It’s to stand it, to be able to make it at all. On any level”(Baldwin). He frowned and smiled: “In order to keep from shaking to pieces. “” He didn’t want to be a prisoner of Harlem anymore, but became a prisoner to heroin. At first Sonny did not feel that heroin was necessarily a bad thing, “”It makes you feel-in control.
Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling” (Baldwin). Sonny feels that even while all doped up on heroin, he feels in control of his life and his circumstances. Even though Sonny takes on different approaches in finding sense in his life; whether through the army, music, or heroin, they do not realistically solve any of his problems they just mask his confusion and indecision temporarily. In my opinion the narrator, is a very selfish man, he only cares about his feelings and not those around him.
The narrator broke his promise to his mother to take care of Sonny, “Two days later I was married, and then I was gone. And I had a lot of things on my mind and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on a special furlough for her funeral” (Baldwin). The narrator’s mother wanted the boys to be close, because they will only have each other when their parents pass away. Also, the narrator has a very judgmental outlook on people, he does not let anyone state their opinion and even if he does he isn’t truly listening.
In an argument with Sonny, “’I hear you. But you never hear anything I say. ’”Sonny is obviously upset that his brother doesn’t respect his wishes to pursue a music career, along with wanting to go to the navy. Both brothers leave home, the narrator when he gets married, and Sonny when he decides to pursue his life as a musician. Neither of them take into account their mother, or each other for that matter when they go on living their lives. They both feel guilty for not being as close to each other as they could have been.
Sonny makes that clear in a letter he writes the narrator, “’Dear brother, You don’t know how much I needed to hear from you. I wanted to write you many a time but I dug how much I must have hurt you and so I didn’t write…and I swear if I’d known what I was doing I would never have hurt you so’” (Baldwin). Sonny feels bad for abandoning the family, and turning to drugs and even though he does it after sometime, he has the courage to say that he’s sorry for his actions.
Towards the end of the story, when the brothers are conversing in the apartment, the narrator realizes how his silent treatment and cold demeanor has affected his brother. “I realized, with this mocking look, that there stood between us, forever, beyond the power of time or forgiveness, the fact that I had held silence-so long! -when he had needed human speech to help him” (Baldwin). Just from a look that Sonny gives him, he understands that Sonny needed his guidance and support through all these years. In conclusion, both brothers are on a pretty harmful way of solving their problems.
The narrator lets things fester inside until he explodes. Then there is Sonny while yes, he is trying new ways to manage, at the end of the day is running away from his problems. Both brother’s only worried about themselves and their needs, neither take in to account their families the people that need them the most. Luckily towards the end of the story they both sort of come to a mutual understanding of each other. I think they both realize neither of them will really change how they are, and they both just need to be understanding of each other.