"Sonny's Blues" by William Baldwin is, in my opinion, one of the best readings we've been assigned so far this semester. While being one of the more comtemporary stories we've looked at thus far, it is also the most socially overt and one of the more challenging of the status quo of the time. I would group it together with "The Yellow Wallpaper" in terms of social commentary, but the two works obviously work in very different ways.
One of the most interesting things about this work is the tension that exists between the narrator and his brother Sonny. In the narrator, we see a man who has assimilated himself into the prevailing cultural structure of the day by becoming a teacher and living a normal life. As his foil, we meet his brother Sonny, who we learn has been in trouble with the police for his use and sale of heroin. From the beginning we can see that these brothers are two very different people. We see them differ even more when we learn of their childhood, when the narrator got good grades and did the right thing while trying to watch over Sonny. We learn that the narrator acted in vain as Sonny skipped school to play music after he decided to become a musician.
It's especially telling that the two brothers finally bond at the end of the story during their conversation about the nature of life and suffering. We then see the narrator begin to understand his brother and empathize with him when he hears the suffering and beauty of his music. This story, while showing the racial and class tensions of the time, also showcases the power of music.