Sonny's Blues

James Baldwin


James Baldwin wrote this because he was influenced very much by music and musicians. He felt closer to musicians than he did to other writers. This is a story about a musician.


Narrator: We never learn this guy’s name. He is Sonny's brother. He is a family man. He teaches high shcool.

Sonny: He is a reckless musician.

Isabel: the Narrator’s wife.


The book starts out with the narrator going to his job at the high school, and then all day he thinks about Sonny, his brother. At the end of the school day he walks home and sees this boy who he grew up with. They talk about Sonny in a "didja hear what happened" kinda way, like somethinhg happened to Sonny. They talk about some incident that was in the papers involving Sonny. At this point we can see that something bad happened to Sonny. The more they talk, we figure out that Sonny overdosed on drugs or something like that.

Then the narrator talks about how he han’t talked to Sonny in awhile, not since he wrote Sonny a letter telling Sonny how his (the narrator’s) daughter Gracie died. Then in this story, they print the return letter from Sonny which basically apologizes foir being out of contact and telling his brother that he’s having some drug problems. Then the narrator talks about when he saw Sonny when Sonny came to NY. They are 7 years apart in age, and the brother (narrator) is responsible while Sonny is a fuck up.

The narrator was nervous about Sonny seeing his family since they were worlds apart. His brother thinks that Sonny got into drugs to escape this normal, safe lifestyle. Then the narrator describes his parents. His father died suddenly, and his mother died after asking the narrator to take care of Sonny. He then talks about after his mom’s funeral, trying to take care of Sonny. He described the scene when he asked Sonny what he wanted to be when he grew up. He wanted Sonny to go to school but Sonny wanted to be a musician. Because the narrator is such an uptight dude, and Sonny is a carefree musician, they fought and went separate ways.

Then the narrator describes a time when Sonny lived with the family. In one episode they talked about drugs and music and you can see that the brothers are coming from 2 different worlds. Then the narrator went to see Sonny play jazz. The end of the book just describes his performance as it was pretty good. That’s it.


  • The main issue here is how do you define a "normal lifestyle".
  • The Narrator thinks he is normal and Sonny is a screwup because Sonny is a druggie musician. But there is no definition of normal.
  • Is the narrator REALLY happy that his life is normal or is he jealous that Sonny took a chance and followed his dream of music?