Sonny’s Blues

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The Narrator’s Father’s Brother Character Analysis

The narrator’s father’s brother only appears in “Sonny’s Blues” through the narrator’s memory of a story his mother told him, but nonetheless he is a consequential character because his death is at the center of much of their familial pain. The narrator’s mother describes the narrator’s uncle as a man somewhat similar to Sonny—he was a musician and enjoyed a reckless and bohemian social life. He died when, while walking home from a concert with the narrator’s father, a car of drunk racists ran him over. The death broke the narrator’s father’s heart, leading the narrator’s father to repress his sorrow, which set an example for the narrator to do the same.

The Narrator’s Father’s Brother Quotes in Sonny’s Blues

The Sonny’s Blues quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Father’s Brother or refer to The Narrator’s Father’s Brother . 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 saw my mother’s face again, and felt, for the first time, how the stones of the road she had walked on must have bruised her feet. I saw the moonlit road where my father’s brother died. And it brought something else back to me, and carried me past it, I saw my little girl again and felt Isabel’s tears again, and I felt my own tears begin to rise. And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Mother , The Narrator’s Father’s Brother , Isabel , Grace
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

As the story nears its end, the narrator continues to explain the thoughts and feelings that Sonny’s music evokes in him. After his abstract meditations on the nature of music and its relationship to suffering, here the narrator begins to turn inward and confront his personal memories and sorrows. Significantly, these memories are deeply empathetic—he feels the stones bruising his mother’s feet, and he sees the road from the saddest night of his father’s life—which shows that the music is actually growing his compassion for others, and connecting him to the past suffering of his family. The narrator also begins to confront his own memories of his daughter, which seems here to be a healthy catharsis for a person reluctant to grapple with his emotions. Baldwin does not allow for a glib ending in which music erases suffering—the narrator knows that outside of the club trouble still awaits the people of Harlem (“as hungry as a tiger”). However, this passage suggests that Sonny’s music has made the narrator more able to cope with the suffering he will inevitably experience, and the narrator’s reflections show the extent to which his character has evolved from rigid and un-empathetic to self-reflective and compassionate.

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

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Father’s Brother appears in Sonny’s Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sonny’s Blues
Family Bonds Theme Icon
...understand her worry, so she explains that her husband, the narrator’s father, once had a brother who died. The narrator has never heard of this brother before. (full context)
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
Family Bonds Theme Icon
Passion, Restraint, and Control Theme Icon
Salvation and Relief Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother recalls that the brother used to play guitar and sing at different places. One Saturday night he and the... (full context)
Cycles of Suffering Theme Icon
Family Bonds Theme Icon
Passion, Restraint, and Control Theme Icon
Salvation and Relief Theme Icon
...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 still... (full context)