The theme of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin focuses on whether a person should be conventional in making decisions for their life, or if they should follow their heart and do what is right for them. A person begins with strengths, many of which they lose along the way. At some point along their heroic journey a person may regain their strengths and develop new ones. Each phase of this journey will have an effect on them and others around them.
According to his brother, who narrates "Sonny's Blues," Sonny was a bright-eyed young man full of gentleness and privacy. "When he was about as old as the boys in my classes his face had been bright and open, there was a lot of copper in it; and he'd had wonderfully direct brown eyes, a great gentleness and privacy. I wondered what he looked like now" (Baldwin 272). Something happened to Sonny, as it did to most of the young people growing up in Harlem. His physical journey growing up in the streets caused a great deal of inner turmoil about whom he was and what kind of life he was to have. One thing for sure, by the time his mother died, Sonny was ready to get out of Harlem. " 'I ain't learning nothing in school,' he said. 'Even when I go.' He turned away from me and opened the window and threw his cigarette out into the narrow alley. I watched his back. 'At least, I ain't learning nothing you'd want me to learn.' He slammed the window so hard I thought the glass would fly out, and turned back to me. 'And I'm sick of the stink of these garbage cans!' " (Baldwin 285).
The garbage cans Sonny referred to seem to symbolize the life he physically lived, his inner or spiritual life and how he dealt with it.
I was sure that the first time Sonny had ever had horse, he couldn't have been much older than these boys were now. These boys, now, were living as we'd been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to the other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone. (Baldwin 273)
Living in the ghetto has to be as much a physical as a spiritual trauma because a person cannot separate the two.
After their mother dies, Sonny seems to be trying to decide what to do with himself; where he fits emotionally when he tells his brother he wants to play jazz like Bird -- Charlie Parker. His brother informs him that he can't make a living at it. Then Sonny states "But what I don't seem to be able to make you understand is that it's the only thing I want to do." His brother gently replies, "Well, Sonny, you know people can't always do exactly what they want to do.'' "No, I don't know that," said Sonny, surprising him. "I think people ought to do what...