This is all he cares to know about Sonny because knowing anymore might be painful for him. It is also worth noting that the protagonist in this tale has gone on to become successful and live a somewhat respectable life, unlike his brother. The protagonist does everything he can to escape the street life that held no future, no promise. He fled the pain and darkness of those streets and Sonny was just a painful reminder of his past. Donald Murray writes that there is "no escape from the darkness for Sonny and his family" (Murray 354) and the only way to cope is by finding another way to survive with the darkness.
Sonny's brother could not have chosen a more different path in life to take. He is a teacher and feels a certain amount of superiority over Sonny. Sonny was not in the least bit inclined to become more educated and he finds in joy in music. Here, Baldwin shows us the different between the boys -- one loves numbers and the other loves music. The protagonist encourages Sonny to "stop kidding around" (33) and find something productive to do because "people can't always do exactly what they want to do" (35). Sonny disagrees, telling him, "People ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?" (35). These two brothers could not be more opposite. Sonny is the dreamer and his brother is more pragmatic in his approach to life. Like most people who disagree, they each feel they are right. Jennifer Hicks maintains that Sonny is different and does not care of he is different. His brother, on the other hand, worked to fit into society's definition of what an African-American should do. He worked according to their mores and did become a success, according to their definitions. Sonny, on the other hand, chooses another route. Hicks writes, "Rather than fulfilling himself by assimilating into the mainstream culture and following the American Dream, he chose to immerse himself in the blues world and become a heroin addict" (Hicks). It is important that we see this as a choice and not the result of a life gone wrong. This notion is important to the overall theme of identity Baldwin seeks to get at with these two brothers. She continues, "It is within this portrayal of how individuals react to and deal with their circumstances that we see Baldwin looking both at individual importance and ethnic renewal" (Hicks). The difference between the two men is palpable.
Baldwin focuses on identity by turning the tables in the protagonist. While he thinks he has somehow "arrived," Baldwin will demonstrate how very little he has evolved in relation to his loser, dope head brother. The main vehicle through which he does this is through music, which serves to be Sonny's salvation. It is the only thing that allows him to cope with the pain of life. He tells his brother:
It's terrible sometimes, inside . . . And there's no way of getting it out -- that storm inside. You can't talk it and . . . when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody's listening. So you've got to listen. You got to find a way to listen. . . . Sometimes you'll do anything to play, even cut your mother's throat. (43)
This passage is important for two reasons: it allows us to see how Sonny copes and it reveals the importance of music. Music is not something to do; it is something to be and it is how Sonny keeps from going mad. The fact that he even mentions cutting his mother's throat in order for any opportunity to play must be shocking to his brother but it is probably something his brother has never felt. Here lies the chasm between the brothers and it will be bridged with music.
Sonny's brother must experience Sonny playing in order to fully comprehend what music means. While watching Sonny play, he is hit with an awareness about Sonny that was missing before. Through the experience of playing and allowing the music to engulf him, Sonny does something his brother cannot; he explores himself. Laurie Champion points out how music is therapeutic for Sonny