The Narrator in Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

The story is set in Harlem, a historical town significantly known by the African American, a place in the neighbourhood of New York City. The cultural revival that took place amongst the black Americans known as the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak in the 1920s, although the neighbourhood of the New York City remained improvised and far much oppressed at this time when sonny’s blues was taking over. The story begins when an unnamed algebra teacher starts reading something which was found to be disturbing as he rides the subway to school. The teacher, who is now the narrator of the story come out of the subway and moves towards school as the fear for his brother Sonny continues to engulf him since he was arrested and charged for selling heroin.

The question under review is if the narrator changed throughout the story?

The first instant of transition of the narrator is when the narrator gets to learn from his mother that the brother to his father died due to drink-driving incident that was propagated by the white men. The mother was telling the narrator this story for him to feel guilty about his brother Sonny who has been arrested. He feels guilty as he is trying to reflect what he has done and not done to his brother. At the same time, he recalls with disappointment on the reasons why Sonny chose to neglect the classical music and follows the jazz music, which is a choice that was deep down inside him on the perspective of the narrator.

Secondly, the next transition moment of the narrator happens when Sonny and the narrator are witnessing a revival scene. The two brothers start talking, and a reader can see that the narrator is trying to understand the brother through what he has come along. When Sonny explains to the brother the narrator now about the revival meeting, it made him think of the feeling brought by heroin and which is something that made him be in control (Sullivan, 185). The narrator asserts that Sonny is referring to a much more excellent idea. He says that Sonny was using heroin to be a preventive tool that will protect him from drowning in the misfortunes of humanity. He continues with his justifications and says that for one to be able to live more in this life, one has to learn from the suffering experienced. Therefore, for Sonny, what brings comfort and experience is the love of jazz music and heroin.

Finally, the change on the narrator’s role is eventually seen towards the end of the story, at the time when he agrees to take his brother to a club playing jazz and to hear him play also. As soon as Sonny takes the stage, the narrator now realizes how music can be used as a tool to portray that they are and how it can help and keep them from deprivations of the human sorrows. The narrator has now understood Sonny’s perspective of choosing jazz music over classic and the reasons he was using heroin.


In a nutshell, the narrator has been used to portray the different perspectives of how the main characters and others in the book develop the main themes. The narrator has experienced a lot of change from the beginning of the story to the end. From the instance when he learns from the mother about his father’s brother to the circumstances faced by the brother as a result of heroin use and the love of jazz music.

Works Cited

Sullivan, Patrick. “Appendix 1: Reading Guide for “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin.” A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind, 2014, pp. 185-192.