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Who is to Blame when Brothers Part Ways?

by desieral


Brotherhood is a very valuable and precious bond that can be bestowed on us, though treatment between brothers is not always perfectly functional, as there may be difficulties in the relationship between them. There are times when life circumstances, individual vicissitudes and lack of communication separate brothers and compel them to take different paths. This friction that sometimes occurs between brothers may be due, not to coldness or disaffection, but to the incapacity of one or both of them to speak to or listen to one other, and to the lack of mutual understanding. It is not uncommon, however, that mainly one of the brothers’ shortcomings impede a good relationship between them. An example of such an unfortunate estrangement between brothers is depicted in the story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. This story, set in Harlem in the 60's, portrays Sonny and his older brother (who is never named) at a point in their lives where they are reunited after a long time of parting. The older brother, being the narrator of the story, shows us through his eyes the last events involving him and Sonny, and through his memories, instances of miscommunication rooted in their common past. After being released from a rehabilitation center for consuming heroin, Sonny moves back in with his older brother in Harlem, where they both were born and raised. While the two brothers are happy to meet again, they have not yet been able to overcome the difficulties in communicating with and understanding each other. While it is true that Sonny has never been able to express himself clearly enough for his brother to understand him, it is clearly the narrator’s incapacity to listen what mainly causes the lack of communication and understanding between the brothers.

Still, it cannot be denied that Sonny is partly responsible as he never insisted enough to be understood, and instead decided to escape. Sonny knew that his brother was really only worried about his future when he showed his dissatisfaction with Sonny's choice of becoming a jazz pianist. Sonny, however, did not explain himself again after seeing that his brother did not approve, and just remained impassive and looked hard at him. In addition, even though the narrator relocated Sonny to his mother-in-law's house, also in Harlem, after their own mother's death, Sonny escaped in the end. Sonny stayed at first, and tried to coexist with this new family, but he and his music were not understood or accepted, and so he fled. In short, it must be acknowledged that Sonny contributed to the lack of understanding between him and the narrator as he didn’t explain himself clearly and fled from the house the narrator had arranged for him to live in. But was it really Sonny's fault? Didn’t he explain that playing jazz was his passion and his calling in life? Didn’t he tell his brother of his desire to leave Harlem? It was the narrator who heard him without listening.

The narrator was never able to heedfully listen to his younger brother with his heart. Instead, he was more concerned with fulfilling his ideal role of elder brother and trying to force Sonny to make different life decisions from the ones Sonny himself had made, such as his profession. Even when Sonny did not repeat or justify his points enough times, the narrator's controlling attitude evidently intimidated Sonny and prevented a sincere conversation between them as the narrator always dismissed everything Sonny had to say. A first piece of evidence for the narrator's incapacity to listen is seen in one of his flashbacks, when he and Sonny were talking about Sonny’s future after their mother's funeral. Although Sonny was endeavoring to explain his desire to become a jazz pianist to his brother, the narrator frowned and grimaced at Sonny, after which he proceeded to question the seriousness of Sonny’s decision. The fact that the narrator does not take his brother’s dreams and yearnings to become a jazz pianist seriously, shows the narrator’s domineering attitude and his deafness to the declarations that Sonny expresses with so much effort. Another piece of evidence for the narrator’s incapacity to listen to Sonny is seen when Sonny returns to his brother’s apartment in Harlem toward the end of the story. Although Sonny once again does not express himself in the clearest of ways, the narrator still finds it difficult to understand what his brother is telling him. On this occasion, admittedly, the narrator is making the effort to listen to his brother, but still he does not admit his closeness and obduracy. This episode shows that while the narrator tries to listen to Sonny’s indeed not very clear statements, he is still unable to make the effort to empathize with his younger brother. In sum, although Sonny repeatedly strives and perhaps fails to effectively share his dreams and desires with his brother in a way that is clear and justified, the narrator, for his part, never listens to Sonny, or when he does, he does so without sincerely opening his heart.

All told, even when Sonny routinely could not express his ideas clearly and did not insist on repeating them or delving into them so that his brother could understand them, the narrator was incapable of listening to what his younger brother had to say, and this is actually the main cause for the lack of communication and understanding between the brothers. The narrator always ignored the plans Sonny had and strove to express, and never considered his dreams valid. This is an unfortunate situation that, although in this story is reconciled, in real life is sometimes a problem that separates brothers forever. The difficulties that arise between brothers, whether caused by one of the brothers or by both equally, are a misfortune that can sometimes sadly affect the beautiful bond of brotherhood. It could be said, then, that with this story Baldwin invites us readers to look upon our own attitudes to our potential brothers and see if there is anything in our relationships with them that we should try to express or listen to better.


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Sun Jan 12, 2020 3:42 am
ShadowVyper wrote a review...



Heya desieral,

Shady here with a quick review for you this fine evening! I haven't read the story this essay is based on, but I'll do my best to give you feedback nonetheless! Let's get started...

There are times when life circumstances, individual vicissitudes and lack of communication separate brothers and compel them to take different paths.


One thing to be careful of in academic essays (or I suppose writing of any sort, I just notice that personally, it tends to creep up in academic essays the most) is to not get too verbose in your vocabulary choices. While scattering a few big words here and there can be good to articulate your point, if you get too obscure then it just makes your essay hard to read rather than clarifying anything. For example, I don't know what vicissitudes means. Of course, I looked it up but even with a definition I only have a shaky understanding of this sentence's meaning. Not to say that I am the standard of vocabulary by any means lol but it's something to keep in mind. Sometimes a simpler word that is easy to understand is better than a bigger word that isn't going to be understood.

Overall, I think this was a really solid essay! I like how you used specific examples to make your point on the older brother not doing a great job of listening to his younger brother. One thing that you could do to revise this/make future essays stronger is to pay close attention to your repetition. You repeat your point, that the older brother won't listen to Sonny and Sonny can't express himself well, quite a few times. It would be better if you could streamline it so you could state your point once or maybe twice and keep all the evidence to supporting that, rather than repeating your point over and over.

All in all, however, great work! Keep writing!

~Shady 8)




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Sat Jan 11, 2020 7:17 pm
Panikos wrote a review...



Hiya, desieral! Just dropping in for a quick review. I haven't read the story you're analysing in this essay, but I'll do my best to give you feedback on the style and content.

Style

For the most part, the essay was clear and well-expressed, but I do have a few minor suggestions on how you might improve. For one, I think you're a little stringent when it comes to paragraphing. The rules of exactly when you should start a new paragraph are pretty vague - it tends to just be 'whenever you change topics', which isn't a very helpful guideline. However, it's generally preferable to keep your paragraphs on the shorter side in an essay, because it breaks the discussion up into palatable chunks and lets us follow the line of argument more easily.

For example, you might break the first paragraph up like so:

Brotherhood is a very valuable and precious bond that can be bestowed on us, though treatment between brothers is not always perfectly functional, as there may be difficulties in the relationship between them. There are times when life circumstances, individual vicissitudes and lack of communication separate brothers and compel them to take different paths. This friction that sometimes occurs between brothers may be due, not to coldness or disaffection, but to the incapacity of one or both of them to speak to or listen to one other, and to the lack of mutual understanding.

It is not uncommon, however, that mainly one of the brothers’ shortcomings impede a good relationship between them. An example of such an unfortunate estrangement between brothers is depicted in the story “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. This story, set in Harlem in the 60's, portrays Sonny and his older brother (who is never named) at a point in their lives where they are reunited after a long time of parting. The older brother, being the narrator of the story, shows us through his eyes the last events involving him and Sonny, and through his memories, instances of miscommunication rooted in their common past.

The story can be summarised as follows: after being released from a rehabilitation center for consuming heroin, Sonny moves back in with his older brother in Harlem, where they both were born and raised. While the two brothers are happy to meet again, they have not yet been able to overcome the difficulties in communicating with and understanding each other. While it is true that Sonny has never been able to express himself clearly enough for his brother to understand him, it is clearly the narrator’s incapacity to listen what which mainly causes the lack of communication and understanding between the brothers.


Breaking it up like this just separates your points more clearly and makes your argument easier to follow. We get to see you 'zooming in' on your essay focus. The first paragraph discusses brotherly rifts in general, the second paragraph introduces the text you will be discussing, the third paragraph summarises the overall plot of that text. Try separate out the topics in the later parts of the essay as well, because I think that the paragraphs as they stand are too dense. It's only a small change, but it will lift the whole piece.

Aside from that, I'd also say that you're trying a too hard to write in an essay style. There's nothing wrong with using concise and simple language in an essay. Being overly wordy just makes the essay feel bloated and like you're trying to seem falsely intellectual. This isn't a huge issue, because for the most part I felt like the style was nicely accessible. However, there are a few sentences you could simplify:

The older brother, being the narrator of the story, shows us through his eyes the last events involving him and Sonny, and through his memories, instances of miscommunication rooted in their common past.


You have quite a few unnecessary relative clauses here. You could probably streamline it to something like:

The older brother narrates the story, taking us through his last interactions with Sonny. His memories reveal a long history of miscommunication between the two brothers.

Don't be afraid to split long sentences into two. Lots of people think that essays call for long, complicated, detailed sentences, but clarity is more important.

The difficulties that arise between brothers, whether caused by one of the brothers or by both equally, are a misfortune that can sometimes sadly affect the beautiful bond of brotherhood.


This might be simplified to:

Misunderstandings can damage brotherly relationships beyond repair, regardless of whether they are caused by one or both parties.

These are just examples, obviously, but it does give you some idea of how you can cut back on unnecessary words and make your points as clearly and concisely as possible. Nevertheless, I do think the style of the essay was mostly very successful, and got better as it went on. I was able to follow your argument sufficiently.

Content

Having not read the story you're discussing, I'm slightly limited when it comes to critiquing the content of this essay. Still, from an outsider perspective, I felt like you covered a good array of moments from the story to support your argument, though you perhaps could've used some direct quotes in order to illustrate your points better. For instance, when you mention that the narrator questioned the seriousness of Sonny's decision [to become a jazz musician], you could've actually embedded a snippet of dialogue into your essay. This would give a clearer grounding to your argument, as well as making it easier for people like me (who haven't read the story) to evaluate Sonny's attitude ourselves. Using direct quotes would prevent the events of the story from being filtered purely through your perspective.

I would've liked you to delve a little deeper into why the brothers misunderstand each other and act the way they do. You mention that Sonny doesn't explain himself very well to the narrator, but you don't speculate as to why that might be. If the narrator is continually unsympathetic to Sonny's goals, it may be that Sonny feels unable to voice his thoughts and passions for fear of being dismissed. In turn, I'd have liked you to discuss the narrator's perspective more. Is he just controlling of his brother, or is he also worried about him, given that Sonny has made bad decisions (heroin usage) in the past? I imagine there was scope to discuss how each brother's behaviour fuelled that of the other, creating a cycle of miscommunication and misunderstanding. That said, I haven't read the story, so I can't attest to the validity of these statements. It's just the sense I got from your discussion.

Overall, though, I think this is a good essay. It's not overlong, it's written clearly, and you do a good job at summarising the source material. I'd just suggest that you discuss the reasons behind each brother's behaviour in more depth, as well as using direct quotes to support your argument. Try to be as concise in your language as possible, too.

Keep writing! :D
~Pan




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Tue Oct 29, 2019 5:03 pm
thepages says...



Hello, persinally I've liked this piece because it has some how enlightened me about brotherhood opinion and the love atop all. The writer tries to show how the bond between brothers is inevitable however much the force against st it may stand. I am looking forward to reading Sonny's Blues.





Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.
— Madeleine L'Engle, Author