The mother in “Sonny’s Blues” is an almost saintlike figure who guards and protects her children and husband from the darkness of the world, and Baldwin’s biblical imagery and undertones come through clearly in her character. She shepherds her husband through the overwhelming grief that follows his brother’s death, thereby living up to the biblical challenge to be “your brother’s keeper.” She has done more than just live a decent life: she helped bear her husband’s tragedy as her own. Just as Jesus is often depicted as a shepherd, so too is the narrator’s mother, whose presence makes her husband’s life manageable. Her life story is a direct challenge to the narrator, who, unlike his mother, initially fails to care for his brother as he should.
In addition to her compassion, the mother also has a prophetic role to play in the narrative. She can see her own impending death and the dangers her youngest son will face. As a mother, she has protected her family, but now that she knows she is going to die, she knows she will no longer be able to guide and protect her family as she once did. Her foreshadowing of her death signals a shift in the narrator’s relationship with his brother. It makes him the new protector of Sonny against the greater darkness of the world that has always threatened to invade their lives.