Sonny’s Blues


James Baldwin

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Sonny’s Blues Characters

The Narrator

The first-person narrator of “Sonny’s Blues” is a high school math teacher in Harlem. As the story begins, he has to decide how to handle his brother Sonny’s trouble with addiction. The narrator is… (read full character analysis)


Sonny is the narrator’s brother. He’s a jazz musician and a heroin addict who lived a bohemian life in New York prior to being arrested for his drug abuse and sent to jail. Sonny… (read full character analysis)

The Narrator’s Mother

The narrator’s mother is not alive in “Sonny’s Blues,” but the narrator remembers her at length in the middle of the story. She is described as a wise and caring woman who took on the… (read full character analysis)

The Narrator’s Father

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… (read full character analysis)

The Narrator’s Father’s Brother

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… (read full character analysis)
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Isabel is the narrator’s wife. She is shown to be a kind and understanding person who is happy to take Sonny into their family, despite his troubles. Isabel’s great sorrow was witnessing the agonizing death… (read full character analysis)

The Narrator’s Sons

The narrator’s sons are most frequently invoked in the story to demonstrate the destructive potential of Harlem. The narrator worries constantly that these kind and good-natured boys will become corrupted by the drugs, violence, and… (read full character analysis)


Creole is the leader of the band Sonny plays with at the jazz club. He is older than Sonny and the narrator, and clearly an experienced musician—the narrator realizes quickly when they start playing… (read full character analysis)

Isabel’s Parents

All Baldwin tells us about Isabel’s parents is that they didn’t approve of the narrator marrying their daughter, and yet they took in teenaged, orphaned Sonny anyway for the narrator’s sake. It’s a kindness… (read full character analysis)

Sonny’s Friend

Sonny’s friend is, like Sonny, an addict in Harlem. The narrator recognizes him because he’s always on the streets asking for money. At the beginning of the story, Sonny’s friend tracks down the narrator… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Grace is the narrator’s youngest child who died of polio at the age of two. The grief that her death causes in the narrator is what makes him finally able to step outside of himself and consider Sonny’s suffering, leading him to repair their relationship.