The narrator of “Sonny’s Blues” provides insight not only into Sonny and their life together but also into their environment. Although the story invokes Sonny in its title, it is through the narrator’s eyes that Sonny and Harlem are revealed. Compared to most of the men in his community, the narrator has succeeded: he has a wife, two children, and a good job as a teacher. However, he is constantly aware of Harlem’s darker, more dangerous side. He notes the open drug dealing that happens in the playgrounds near the housing projects, the disappearance of old homes, and, of course, his brother’s ongoing battle with the world. Far from worrying solely about his family’s difficulties, he frames Sonny’s struggles within a larger context, situating him within the poverty, crime, and drug abuse that plague the entire community.
Though the narrator is fully conscious of his community’s dark side, he tries his best to keep those problems at arm’s length, refusing to let any tragedy affect him too much emotionally. Unlike Sonny, the narrator has a difficult time expressing his ideas and emotions, and only when his young daughter dies does he open up and write to his brother. The narrator believes that he has been called upon to watch over Sonny, but this knowledge doesn’t lessen the burden he feels. He is constantly torn by his emotions, which shift quickly from love to hate, concern to doubt. As much as he cares for Sonny, he seems to be unable to fully accept that his brother has the capacity for change.