Masculinity In Sonny's Blues

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In “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin, the narrator assumes responsibility of his brother, Sonny, after Sonny is released from jail for using heroine. While he attempts to integrate Sonny into his household, the narrator is overcome with his notion of masculinity, which is to “man up” by being patriarchal, assertive, and emotionless, driving him to be overprotective of Sonny. This ultimately leads the narrator to distance himself from Sonny, shifting his once fraternal relationship with him to that of a father and son. It is not until the narrator lets go of his assumed patriarchal status and starts focusing on who Sonny actually is, rather than what he should be, that the narrator begins to let of go of his personal perception of masculinity …show more content…
The narrator’s self consciousness while reflecting on the clarity of his words and actions around Sonny suggest an uneasiness in their relationship. It becomes clear that this discomfort is due to the narrator’s overprotective nature and minimal communication: “I was trying to remember everything I’d heard about dope and addiction and I couldn’t help watching Sonny for signs. I wasn’t doing it out of malice. I was trying to find out something about my brother. I was dying to hear him tell me he was safe” (840). The narrator’s repetition of “trying” and use of the word “dying” highlights his desperation to protect his brother. However, his passive approach to look after his brother by observing him from afar and by relying on Sonny to reach out to him reinforces the narrator’s failure to connect with Sonny. The narrator’s continuing passivity and minimal communication, revealed in the “long” periods of “silence” (848) in their interactions, ultimately leads Sonny to escape the narrator’s life on an emotional …show more content…
This further creates tension––and distance––in their relationship. The narrator’s condescending tone when discussing Sonny’s future plans with Sonny reinforces his patriarchal role over Sonny: “‘You getting to be a big boy,’ I said desperately, ‘it’s time you started thinking about your future’” (847). The overly simple language the narrator uses when talking to his brother suggests he views himself as a fatherly and authoritative figure to Sonny, rather than a brotherly one. When Sonny communicates that he wants to join the army, his brother’s desperation to protect him by attempting to convince him to pursue a safer career further belittles Sonny and exacerbates the tension in their relationship: “Then I got mad. Because I was scared. ‘You must be crazy. You goddamn fool, what the hell do you want to go and join the army for?’” (848). The narrator’s repeated abusive language toward Sonny in his efforts to seem intimidating and powerful adds to their already disjointed relationship and leads to Sonny’s frustration. During Sonny and the narrator’s argument, Sonny expresses his discontent through avoidance and physical violence: “He turned away from me and opened the window and threw his cigarette out into the narrow alley” and then “slammed the window so

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