Sonny’s Blues

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The narrator’s father is also not alive in “Sonny’s Blues,” but through the narrator’s memories of him and his mother’s stories about him, Baldwin gives a glimpse of who he was. The narrator’s father is described as someone who could be hopeful and caring, but was also plagued by despair—he drank on weekends, eventually drinking himself to death. Though the narrator never knew this while his father was alive, the source of the narrator’s father’s torment was having witnessed the death of his own brother when a car of drunk white men ran him over on purpose. The narrator’s father suffered deeply from this event, but kept his suffering private, preferring to handle it by drinking and only confessing his feelings to his wife.

The Narrator’s Father Quotes in Sonny’s Blues

The Sonny’s Blues quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Father or refer to The Narrator’s Father. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Sonny’s Blues published in 1995.
Sonny’s Blues Quotes

“He says he never in his life seen anything as dark as that road after the lights of that car had gone away.”

Related Characters: The Narrator’s Mother (speaker), The Narrator’s Father, The Narrator’s Father’s Brother
Related Symbols: Darkness
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, the narrator’s mother is telling the story of how the narrator’s father’s brother died on a dark road when a car of drunk white racists ran him over. This was a turning point in the narrator’s father’s life—his guilt and despair over having watched his brother die led him to a life of drinking and suffering privately. This is one of the most concrete uses of darkness as a symbol for suffering. While the narrator’s mother has told us that the road was not literally totally dark (there was a bright moon that night), the narrator’s father’s statement that he had never seen anything as dark as that road shows that what he actually meant is that this was the beginning of his greatest suffering. This passage is meant to echo the relationship between the narrator and Sonny, showing the guilt and sorrow that arises when one brother fails another.

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I had never thought about it before, had never been forced to, but I suppose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called “good-time people.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Sonny, The Narrator’s Father
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs just after the narrator’s mother dies, when the narrator is confronting teenaged Sonny about his future plans. He is dismayed when Sonny admits he wants to be a jazz musician, and one of the reasons is that it’s an occupation that the narrator believes his father would have looked down on. While it’s not clear that it’s true that his father would have thought this, the quote sheds significant light on the narrator’s character. He’s someone devoted to responsibility and respectability, and, for that reason, one of the worst things someone could be is “good-time people.” His dismissal of jazz musicians as “good-time people” shows that part of his objection to Sonny’s chosen occupation is his belief that Sonny is shirking responsibility and choosing an unserious life. While the narrator’s concern about Sonny’s financial stability is certainly genuine, the narrator also shows that he profoundly misunderstands the nature of Sonny’s passion. Being a jazz musician is not something he does for a “good time”—it’s something he feels that he has to do in order to confront and relieve his suffering. It’s a serious occupation that can bring joy and relief to Sonny and to those around him, but the narrator’s rigidity and prejudices mean that he cannot see this.

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The Narrator’s Father Character Timeline in Sonny’s Blues

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Father appears in Sonny’s Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sonny’s Blues
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
Family Bonds Theme Icon
Salvation and Relief Theme Icon
The narrator begins to remember his father, whom he describes as “always on the lookout for ‘something a little better.’” The narrator... (full context)
Family Bonds Theme Icon
...saw his mother alive. This was when he came home from the army for his father’s funeral, and his mother made him promise he would look after Sonny if anything happened... (full context)
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
Family Bonds Theme Icon
Passion, Restraint, and Control Theme Icon
Salvation and Relief Theme Icon
...to play guitar and sing at different places. One Saturday night he and the narrator’s father were drunk and walking home when a group of drunk white men aimed their car... (full context)
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
Family Bonds Theme Icon
Passion, Restraint, and Control Theme Icon
Salvation and Relief Theme Icon
...the road bruised his mother’s feet, and he can see the moonlit night when his father’s brother died. He begins to cry, and remembers that outside the club the world is... (full context)