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.