’s View Of Sonny Essay, Research Paper
The Changes in the Narrator’s View of Sonny
Can one know another’s thoughts? Through dialogue, actions, and events, the thoughts and views
of a man of whom we know not even a name are shown. The man is the narrator of “Sonny’s Blues” and
his thoughts we are shown are those directed towards his brother. Over the course of the story, there are
three major stages or phases that the narrator goes through, in which his thoughts about his brother
change. We see that those stages of thought vary greatly over the narrator’s life, from confusion about his
brother to understanding. Each phase brings different views of his own responsibility toward his brother,
his brother’s manhood, and his brother’s sense of reality.
Through out the story, three of the narrator’s view are changed, the first of which is Sonny’s
manhood. During the first phase, early in the story, the narrator showed that he viewed Sonny as a child.
“I was beginning to realize that I’d never seen him so upset before… [and decided this was] one of those
things kids go through and that I shouldn’t make it seem important.”(49) This quote is an example of how
the narrator viewed his brother. He not only thought Sonny acted as a kid, but was also too young to be
planning a future or career. “He still wasn’t a man yet, he was still a child, and they had to watch out for
him in all kinds of ways.”(51) The narrator decided that he would plan Sonny’s future and when Sonny
rebelled, the narrator saw it as yet another childish action.
Another way in which the narrator’s overall view changed was his view on whether Sonny’s idea
of reality was sound. Still in the first phase, the narrator often presents his view of reality and when Sonny
rejects it, the narrator feels Sonny is being unreasonable. For instance, “‘Well Sonny,’ I said, gently, “you
know people can’t always do exactly what they want to do-’ ‘No I don’t think that,’ said Sonny, surprising
me.”(49) Actually, Sonny understood life much more clearly than the narrator, but the narrator did not
realize that then. He thought that perhaps Sonny was just too young or too high on drugs to understand
what life was about.
Finally, the third view changed was the narrator’s responsibility towards Sonny. Before the
brothers’ mother died, the narrator promised he would take it upon himself to take care of Sonny should
the mother die. The narrator viewed Sonny as a responsibility he had. Because of the promise made to his
mother, he felt he owed it to his mother to take care of Sonny. Therefore, whenever he did something for
Sonny it was because his mother had wanted him to, not because he cared about Sonny. As soon as taking
care of Sonny stopped working with his schedule, he sent him to his mother-in-law’s house.
During the story, however, a long separation brought the narrator into his second stage of
thinking, and changed his views of Sonny. The narrator recognized that Sonny wasn’t just a kid any more.
Sonny had been in the Navy and had been living on his own for some time. Yet he didn’t see him as a
man either. “He was a man by then, of course, but I wasn’t willing to see it.”(52) He saw Sonny as a
teenager of sorts. Sonny dressed strangely, became family with strange friends, and listened to still
stranger music.” In the narrator’s eyes, Sonny foolishly thought he knew everything.
Even though the narrator’s views on Sonny’s manhood changed, during the second stage his
feelings about Sonny’s sense of reality didn’t. When he saw Sonny after Sonny’s stay in the Navy, the
narrator still viewed Sonny as if he were on drugs. “He carried himself, loose and dreamlike all the time,
…and his music seemed to be merely an excuse for the life he led. It sounded just that weird and
disordered.”(52) He thought that Sonny had been driven even farther from reality than before. He thought
that Sonny’s view of reality was so distorted that he might as well have been dead.
Unlike his views on Sonny’s sanity, when his views on Sonny’s manhood changed so he thought,
did his responsibility toward Sonny. He began fighting regularly with Sonny, “Then [Sonny] stood up and
he told me not to worry about him anymore in life, that as he was dead as far as I was concerned.”(52)
During this time in which the narrator thought Sonny was acting as a teenager he forsook his promise all
together. The narrator did not communicate with his brother at all for some time. During this time of no
communication, he felt that he could do nothing more and could not be held responsible for what
happened to Sonny.
As the story nears completion, a single event brings the narrator out of the second phase and into
his third phase. It is in this final pahse that the narrator obtains a true understanding of Sonny. The death
of the narrator’s daughter Grace was so devastating to the narrator that he said, “My trouble made his
real”(53). The narrator finally felt the pain and despair that had plagued his brother for so long. It was at
that moment that the narrator found himself understanding Sonny’s manhood. He was on the same level
as his brother, and he was finally seeing his brother as he truly was. When the narrator felt these feelings
he saw that Sonny was just a man that was steeped in despair and deserved respect.
All of the narrator’s views did not change at once. He had already come to accept Sonny as a man
before his views of Sonny’s sanity changed. As he listened to Sonny’s emotional playing, he came to the
realization that Sonny had always understood what life was about. He listened to the playing and
recognized it as more than merely music. Through his mentioning the cup of trembling, the cup that hold
the anger of the Lord, he shows he understands what Sonny has been through. He finally knew that
Sonny’s songs, Sonny’s blues weren’t weird or disordered but were actually a way to freedom.
Finally, during the third phase, the narrator finally started caring about Sonny instead of try to
care for Sonny. He no longer saw him as just something to be taken care of, he finally began to see him as
a brother. He became sensitive to what offended Sonny and took caution to avoid them. He was willing to
be interested in what Sonny interested in. Finally, he was willing to sit and listen to Sonny instead of
telling him how to run his life. All of these were drastic changes from when their mother had first died
and improved the brothers’ relationship.
Through out the story it is as if the narrator is descending a stair well. Each stage that the narrator goes
through is another flight of stairs and each flight of stairs he descends brings him closer to an
understanding of Sonny. The narrator descended one flight and it changed his views one way, another
flight and his views changed again. During the whole ordeal he can see Sonny, yet his views of Sonny are
distorted or blurred. After each stage he believes his new view is the correct one, however it is not until he
reaches the ground that he gets a true idea of what Sonny is like. It is then that he brings himself down to
Sonny’s level and begins seeing Sonny as an equal.