Sonny’s Blues

by: James Baldwin

Important Quotations Explained

1. Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light.

The narrator makes this observation about Sonny when he sees him after he’s released from prison. Prison, for Sonny, was a hellish experience, as was his addiction to heroin. Both experiences have altered Sonny, but he remains, at heart, the same person he’s always been. The narrator notes, somewhat mournfully, that he never actually knew his baby brother, even though he can see traces of him buried beneath the darkness of prison life and drug addiction. It’s a painful realization, one that he is forced to confront now that Sonny has become, to some degree, his responsibility. The question that remains for Sonny is whether he can be brought back into the light, whether he can ultimately be saved. While in prison, Sonny lived like a caged animal, trapped in the misery of his life. He is physically free now, but whether he is free of his addiction and sorrow is still unclear.