According to the narrator, his mother assigning him the responsibility of taking care of his brother, Sonny, he is asking him to be his keeper. It is an echo to a certain extent of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. The narrator is presented with a dilemma of whether, as Sonny’s Brother, he is predisposed to be his keeper. Sonny’s life is nothing but chaos; he is in and out of prison and is faced with a drug problem (Baldwin). In a fight between the two brothers, Sonny tells the narrator to consider him dead. The narrator walks away and fails to adhere to his mother’s command to look after his brother. This failure does not, however, last long because he takes Sonny back to his home. He is after all his brother, and the narrative creates an impression that their I nothing he can do to change that. His role as his brother’s keeper is permanent, and he constantly worries about his situation with prison and drug abuse.
The idea of brotherly love also extends beyond the relationship of the two brothers and includes the community. Drug abuse in Harlem has been like a plague and is characterized by poverty and frustration. The adults gather children on Saturday afternoons and tell stories that give a sense of warmth and protection to the young ones in this neighborhood. All the anger ends with the realization that all people are connected in a way or another. The narrator was initially angered by Sonny’s friends but later offers one money after this realization. Even Sonny, a clearly troubled character, helps people deal with this problem by channeling their frustrations into his music.
Harlem appears to be a character in itself, and evidently, not a positive one. Both the narrator and his brother acknowledge Harlem as the source of the many problems experienced by a lot of people. It this bleakness that makes Sonny an addict in his attempt to avoid it. The narrator’s mother also laments when they were young about not living somewhere safer. Harlem’s role in the story is a villain that looms throughout history and is the story’s antagonist.
Grace is the narrator’s daughter who dies very young, and her death from Polio is symbolic of the horrible sorrows we all encounter in this life. However, it is this sad event that prompts the narrator to reach out to his brother Sonny. In this way, Grace becomes very much like her mother, Isabella, who is an embodiment of the strength of family. Like the way Isabella makes sure Sonny is accepted in her home and relieves any tension between the two men, Grace helps the two men reconnect and again illustrates the strength of the family connection.
Sonny is somewhat dependent on music to keep him alive. Music is not just an artistic outlet for Sonny but also but is also an emotional and psychological release for him and for many other people that depend on his music. To Sonny, music represents freedom and passion. He is a man with so much talent in this field. He initially saw music as his ticket out of Harlem after he became aware of the looming drug problem. However, the same music is cause for his ruin. And because ruin transcends the ability to deal and control its music does not save Sonny. Because of his association with “goodtime people,” Sonny becomes an addict. The life of a musician with its crooked schedule where they work at night and have to sleep during the day is a source of anxiety and psychological problems considering in addition to the drugs.
Baldwin, James, and George Kirby. Sonny’s blues. Klett, 1970.