The story 'Sonny's Blues'

Comparison of Character Traits: Sonny's Blues vs The Rich Brother


Two African American brothers are the subject of the tale "Sonny's Blues," which describes their struggles to succeed in life. The older sibling is a musician, while the narrator is a successful teacher. Due to his heroin addiction, the younger brother Sonny can never back away from danger. The narrator takes him in after he is released from prison, and it is during this time that the two siblings get to know one another. Pete and Donald are two brothers who are also featured in Tobias' tale, "The Rich Brother." They are totally different, Pete, the eldest is a successful executive while Donald is still struggling with his soul. Pete goes to pick Donald after being kicked out of the camp, and it is during this drive back home that we see the real differences in their personality and characters. The aim of this article is to compare and contrast three character traits of the narrator in 'Sonny's Blues' and Pete in 'The Rich Brother.'

Sibling Compassion

One of the similarities in the two characters is their compassion towards their young siblings. Pete, although self-centered, never stops to care for his brother. He is the one who pays for Donald's medical bills and constantly lends him money, to the extent that he can no longer keep up the with the track of the nickels and dimes (Wolf 90). If that is not enough, Pete has accepted to take his little brother in until he finds his feet, another revelation of how much he cares for his brother, even if sometimes he feels like as the bigger brother, it is his duty to do so, particularly since their parents are both dead. Another indication of Pete's concern for his brother is when he decides to pick him up himself because he fears sending Donald money for bus ticket will land him in trouble (Wolf 89). The narrator in Sonny's Blues also cares for his younger brother Sonny. At the beginning of the story, when he learns of his brother's arrest, he admits that he is scared for his younger brother. He cannot concentrate in class, and the constant thought of his brother causes a constant block of ice in his belly, which shows that he is truly concerned about his brother (Baldwin 17). Another indication is the fact that he, like Pete, decides to take Sonny in after his brother's release from prison. He is also concerned about his younger brother's drug addiction, to the extent that he attempts to search his room for any evidence of drug use. Better yet, he even confronts him on the issue (Baldwin 37).


Both Pete and the narrator in Sonny's Blues are also ambitious, as compared to their younger brothers. The narrator, an African American, coming from a poor neighborhood of Harlem, has managed to make it as a teacher. The story is during a time in the history of America where blacks went through a lot of discrimination and segregation. The heroin epidemic also happened during this time (Cicero, e al. 823). Therefore, for him to avoid heroin, the greatest epidemic at the time, complete school, and become a teacher shows true ambition. Pete, on the other hand, is a successful executive, with interest in real estate. According to the narrator, together with his wife, they own a century 21franchise in Santa Cruz. He drives a Mercedes Benz, owns a sailboat, and a beautiful house by the sea, and friends in high places (Wolf 88). All these wealth shows just how ambitious Pete is.

Moral Judgment and Wealth

While the narrator in Sonny's Blues is successful, he is not controlled by wealth, like Pete. He portrays himself as someone modest enough to have a conversation with a heroin addict like Sonny's friend he meets at the school's courtyard. Pete, on the other hand, is possessed with the idea of making money. Money has taken control of his soul, as he can no longer make sound moral judgments. For one, he is overworked and irritated when Donald spills soda on the seat of his new Mercedes-Benz (Wolf 90). He eventually leaves his brother along the road when he realizes that Donald gave some money away to a stranger. Again, his moral judgment is not out of good will, which should be the benchmark of any action, no matter the consequences. As Mill puts it, to judge goodwill, we must rely on consequences and results of our actions (Misselbrook 211). Success overcomes him to the extent that he now considers helping his brother a responsibility and not goodwill.


Both the narrator and Pete are successful men who have beat odds to achieve their dreams. On their hand, their brothers, who are going through rough patches in their lives, present them with the different challenges. While both of them seem to care about their brothers' plights, the narrator in Sonny's Blues seems to be genuinely concerned. He is not judgmental of his brother and tries to help him the best way he can. Pete, on the other hand, is possessed with the idea of wealth to the extent that he abandons his brother over money.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." The Jazz Fiction Anthropology. Ed. Feinstein, Sascha, &

Rife, David. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009. 17-48

Cicero, Theodore J., et al. "The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective

analysis of the past 50 years." JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 71, no. 7, 2014, pp. 821-826.

Misselbrook, David. "Duty, Kant, and Deontology." British Journal of General Practice, vol.

63, no. 609, 2013, pp. 211-211.

Wolff, Tobias. "The Rich Brother." An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed.

Kennedy, Joseph, & Gioia, Dana. New York: Longman Publishers, 2007. 87-99.

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