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Sonny’s Blues is a book written by James Baldwin. This book talks about family relations, politics, religion, and many other social issues including music, drug abuse, among others. Even though this book seems to take place long time ago, Sonny’s Blues addresses issues that are still affecting our societies today. This book has many characters who contribute directly and indirectly, despite the fact that it is narrated by one person. These characters include Sonny, Sonny’s brother - narrator, Isabel - narrator’s wife, Gracie - narrator’s daughter, Sonny’s childhood friend, narrator’s father, mother, uncle and students, among others. All these characters have unique characteristics and contribute significantly to the development of the plot and themes in the book. In order to understand the role and contribution of every character in this book, thorough analysis is required. This paper will be, therefore, analyzing the narrator as a character.
In his book Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin uses a narrator to present his work. This character narrates the whole story in the book giving information on many different cases that affected him and his family. The narrator, whose name is not mentioned in the book, shares his story with the reader of the book as he talks about many different life aspects. The narrator is a high school teacher, teaching mathematics, a husband, a father, and a brother of Sonny. In the book, the narrator is presented in many different ways - a fact which helps the author to pass a wide variety of information to his reader.
To start with, the narrator is presented as a responsible person with high ability of taking his responsibilities fully. Right from childhood to adulthood, the narrator is presented as a responsible person. Like an elder brother, he helped his mother to take care of his younger brother - Sonny. He went to school and past his examinations well. Presentation of the narrator as a reliable person is seen when his mother left him with a responsibility of taking care of his brother after she was dead. She gave him good reasons as to why he should take care of his brother by telling him that he had an uncle whose death nobody had talked about (Baldwin 3). Since then, we see the narrator doing all is best to take care of Sonny- his brother, till Sonny decided to part ways. Even after his arrest, the narrator welcomes Sonny and continues to take care of him.
The narrator is also presented as a worker – a middle class worker. Even though the narrator is doing what might not be viewed by many working class people as good job, he likes his work and offers all the best. When we first meet the narrator, he is a high school teacher- teaching mathematics, and by the time he received news of Sonny’s arrest, he was teaching algebra. He also once worked in the army where he fought in many wars. “Mama tried to tell me something about this, just after Daddy died. I was home on leave from the army (Baldwin 5).” This shows that the narrator was a worker and worked hard.
Besides, the narrator is a good family man. Unlike other men of his age, who went in clubs dancing with bar attendants, the narrator never went in the night club and always stayed home with his family. He is married to Isabel and blessed with two sons. He always provides for his family and lives a standard middle class life. After Sonny was released from prison, he stayed with him for more than two weeks providing him with all basic needs. He values and respects his family a lot, in that there is no case of cheating or being unfaithful.
The narrator values technology and media. Many people do not like media, especially printed media, saying that it is expensive. However, this is not the case for the narrator, who likes media a lot. It was from the paper where he heard that his brother was arrested for being violent and using heroin. During this era, many people believed that papers were for the whites, since they were expensive and hence, they paid less attention to any form of printed media. He also wrote letters to his brother when he was imprisoned.
For many people, it will not be easy to forgive your brother, who you once counted on, taught him good ways of life, gave moral and financial support, but he ended up choosing to the other way and became a drug addict. This was the case for the narrator, who for more than one year had not seen or talked with his brother, "Look. I haven't seen Sonny for over a year, I'm not sure I'm going to do anything.. Anyway, what the hell can I do? (Baldwin 44)." Nevertheless, when his daughter dies, he wrote a letter to Sonny notifying him about the death. In response, Sonny wrote a letter to him asking for forgiveness and expressing how he was afraid but willing to talk to his brother - 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. But now I feel like a man who's been trying to climb up out of some deep, real deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside (Baldwin 10).” In spite of all these, the narrator forgave his brother and even welcomed him back at home after serving his imprisonment. This, therefore, presents the narrator as a forgiving and loving person.
The narrator is also presented as a person who hates music and live performances in the bars. Just like nowadays a lot of people hate certain music and going to bars or night clubs, the narrator hated night clubs and music. As a matter of fact, he had warned Sonny about singing and performing in the bars at night. When he heard of Sonny’s arrest and use of heroin, he starts associating drug addiction to the music and performances. Nevertheless, “Sonny declined all these allegations saying that there were reasons more or less than music that led him to drugs (Baldwin 77).” The narrator fails to understand this and still insists that music was the main cause. It was this fact that led Sonny to ask the narrator to accompany him to the bar so that he can see him performing, and at that point the narrator actually understood factors that were beyond what he thought.
In conclusion, the narrator is one of the major characters and has enormous impact on the plot and theme of the play. He is the one used by the author to deliver his message to the reader. The author, therefore, presented him in different ways as a different personal with unique characteristics so as to ensure that everybody understands the message. Together with other characters, the author finds it easy to use the narrator to convey his message. He presents him as a hard working family man, who is a forgiving, loving and responsible person, which made him an exceptional character.