The Brotherly Bond in Sonny’s Blues and the Red Convertible

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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In “Sonny’s Blues,” by James Baldwin and “The Red Convertible,” by Louise Erdrich, both protagonists battle specific challenges in an attempt to understand and aid their brothers with their struggles, hoping to establish or restore a fraternal bond.

Sonny from “Sonny’s Blues” and Henry from “The Red Convertible” are both dealing with an internal conflict that stemmed from an injury they’ve experienced. Their environments may have directly or indirectly caused their struggles. The narrator and his younger brother, Sonny, from “Sonny’s Blues” are African Americans raised in Harlem, a neighborhood plagued with drug use and poverty.

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This prompts Sonny’s desire to escape the confines and stereotypes of the neighborhood by searching for his purpose in life. While driving home with Sonny after his release from prison, the narrator contemplates if he or Sonny have truly escaped their neighborhood, musing, “…maybe, that I had escaped, after all, I was a schoolteacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn’t lived in Harlem for years” (271).

However, Sonny’s ‘escape from Harlem’ eventuated in him winding up in prison for heroin use and distribution. After release, Sonny’s past experiences in prison continue to negatively affect him, and he attempts to overcome the trauma by immersing himself in music. The narrator eventually realizes “that part of [them] had been left” (271). Despite the narrator seemingly succeeding, he perceives the darkness in the neighborhood and consistently deals with his emotions, whereas Sonny, though he physically escaped Harlem, is still haunted by the repercussions of his actions there. This demonstrates that the narrator and Sonny have yet to truly evade their harsh realities. Conversely, Lyman and his older brother, Henry, from “The Red Convertible”, grew up on a Native American reservation in North Dakota.

Even though there are certain restrictions in their environment similar to “Sonny’s Blues,” the effect it had on them is less significant. Nevertheless, another factor that profoundly impacted both characters is Henry’s deployment to Vietnam. Henry’s military service resulted in his suffering from trauma. Lyman reflects on the stark changes in his brother post-deployment, stating “When he came home, though, Henry was very different … Henry was skittish and mean” (4). Henry, mirroring Sonny in some way, internally grapples with his battles and tends to isolate himself. He distances himself from the world and everyone around him, including his younger brother, Lyman, with whom he was once close to.

Both lead characters try to recognize their bros and also to form or revive a bond with them. To attain this, both struggles to conquer their very own barriers. Previously on in “Sonny’s Blues”, there were disputes and also run-ins between the storyteller as well as Sonny, which were brought on by the narrator’s very own activities and attitudes. The narrator’s preliminary lack of knowledge prevented him from developing a connection with Sonny due to the fact that he did not try to recognize Sonny in spite of fretting for Sonny’s future. The narrator additionally exclaimed how he “had the feeling that [he] really did not recognize [Sonny] in all” (279) after their debate regarding Sonny’s imagine ending up being an artist.

On the other hand, Lyman from “The Red Convertible” has actually been attempting to understand Henry since the beginning. He already had a strong brotherly bond with Henry prior to the tale’s events. After observing Henry’s changes after his return from battle, Lyman attempts to bring Henry back to his old self and rebuild the league they previously had. He “thought the car might bring the old Henry back somehow” (5 ). Nonetheless, what Lyman stops working to understand is that Henry is too much gone to return back to that he was before and also stops working to recognize the influence Henry’s experiences carried him.

Both brotherly partnerships face a substantial change by the end of the story where the lead characters have the ability to overcome their barriers to an extent. The narrator saw the fatality of his daughter as an indicator to lastly be able to perform his mother’s desires to be there for Sonny. A while after Sonny’s launch from prison, the storyteller as well as Sonny from “Sonny’s Blues” took care of to have a significant discussion. The narrator gets to listen to Sonny’s songs and also “heard what he had undergone, and would continue to undergo” (293 ). The narrator ultimately involves understand Sonny as well as Sonny managed to conquer his battles as well as continues to encounter them by revealing all of it in his songs, something he has actually been intending to do the whole time. He likewise actually winds up conserving the narrator, opening up the storyteller as much as his inner self. And also despite being “aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble extended over [them], longer than the sky” (293 ), the storyteller and also Sonny were able to have that minute of connection.

On the other hand, Henry was incapable to overcome or encounter his trauma, with death appearing to be the only retreat offered. The bros have a last moment with each other similar to old times, yet Lyman then comes to the terrible understanding that things will certainly never ever go back to the way they were when Henry jumped into the Red River, let the present take him much, and said “my boots are loading … in a regular voice” (8 ). Lyman saves Henry by letting him go due to the fact that life would certainly no more coincide for Henry. Comparable to “Sonny’s Blues”, Henry saves Lyman in such a way. Lyman was also focused on fixing their relationship as well as underwent a great deal of distress due to it. By allowing himself go, Henry saves himself and gives Lyman a brand-new begin.

The protagonists, the storyteller from “Sonny’s Blues,” as well as Lyman from “The Red Convertible,” both battle to get rid of particular challenges. They also attempt to understand and assist their brothers, Sonny and Henry respectively, in order to create or revive a brotherly relationship. Initially, there was some tension between the narrator and Sonny due to their differing perspectives. However, the narrator later opens himself up and lets Sonny in an attempt to understand him and develop a bond. The brothers are able to reach a connection and mutual understanding in the end, despite the fact that there is likely more chaos awaiting them.

Differently, Lyman and Henry already had a strong relationship, which was later hurt after Henry’s return from a traumatic experience. Lyman tries to fix Henry and the bond they once had, but comes to realize that it was all in vain. He had no choice but to let Henry, and a part of himself, go in order to save Henry from further pain, as well as to save himself.

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The Brotherly Bond in Sonny's Blues and the Red Convertible. (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from